Artist Spotlight: Patrick Dougherty

After graduate training as a hospital administrator, Patrick Dougherty returned to the University of North Carolina in the early ’80s with the intention of becoming a sculptor. Combining his carpentry skills with his love of nature, Dougherty began to learn more about primitive techniques of building and to experiment with tree saplings as construction material. This eventually led to two decades of sculpting over 200 large-scale art installation displays that have been seen worldwide. “I am fond of saying that sticks were mankind’s first building material and even the modern person continues to have a deep affinity for how to use them”, says Dougherty.

Tell us a little bit about your work and what you do.
The work proceeds very quickly, and generally each sculpture takes three weeks to complete. I might have four people working at any one time, but during the three-week period of work, this means that 50 different people have played a part in its development. For a short period of time, all these people unite as stick workers and indulge some of their most basic urges to build.

What has made your work successful?
One of the most basic components for a sculptor in my circumstance is a good sense of humor. Things go “wrong” at every turn, and having the wherewithal to laugh and avoid wallowing in irony and finger-pointing is the key to progress. I have a knack for organizing resources well and have an inclusive leadership style. I especially enjoy my encounters in a new community and consider the time I spend as a kind of cultural exchange in which the people and the sense of the place are somehow folded back into the sculpture itself.

What is the inspiration for this local piece?
This piece has children’s play as its inspiration. After acquainting myself with the specific attributes of the material that we harvested and the ins and outs of the construction site, I created a work that is kid-friendly, that captures the imagination of young people, with lots of doorways to encourage movement and exploration.

What do you enjoy about working in the Pacific Northwest?
I work in many different locations and I especially like the unique eco-system of the Northwest. While building, I will enjoy wonderful interplay with the volunteer helpers and with the visitors who come, so when the project is finished, I will have a strong sense of the people of Olympia.

“Engaging in this type of artwork is a treat for the viewer, beyond the piece’s complexity and workmanship,” says Robin Lucas, publisher of ShowCase Magazine. “It is whimsical and takes us back to a timeless connection with our childhood and agricultural history.” Dougherty’s work will be on exhibit at the Hands On Children’s Museum at 414 Jefferson St NE, Olympia.

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