World famous Patrick Dougherty builds skyscrapers with a WOW factor! But there’s so much more to his cathedral-sized creations made of twigs. The self-described sculptor magically weaves merriment and a little homily into each of his monumental ‘StickWork’ pieces.
Stemming from each of his sapling-sculptures are lessons of universal truth. The scaffolding of these temples soar with a sense of community, confidence and goodwill. In many ways these masterpieces paraphrase the spirituality of countless inter-denominational sermons. “To everything there is a season.” By design, the season for his wild-looking things last physically for two years. It’s up to those who experience the StickWorks to hold onto their greater wisdom for life.
In an exclusive interview ‘ToDiFor’ Dougherty explained some of the earthly and ethereal components of his process on the site of his latest sculpture. After a leather-gloved, bear-pawed handshake we sat on the front lawn of Highfield Hall and Gardens in Falmouth, Massachusetts. There the artist could over-see his imaginative project take life under the cool shade of a historic Beech tree. The soft-spoken 77-year-old North Carolinian began by road-mapping his circuitous path towards this unconventional occupation of making behemoth treehouses.
Dougherty earned a degree in English in 1967; two years later he completed a Master’s degree in Hospital and Health Administration before returning to school to study history and sculpture. But the unlikely seeds of his greatest creative intuition were sown in night-classes while he was stationed in Germany. Deployed for three years, his creativity took flight in Air Force art studios.
After experimenting with careers Dougherty branched out of tradition. In 1982 he combined his scholarship and business acumen with his love of nature and carpentry and began making elaborate Stick Houses. Pointing to the contours of his most recent Stick-Work, christened last Friday as “A Passing Fancy”, he said, “Every branch is an important sentence in the story of this house’s life, but it’s temporal.”
As we sat, community volunteers from the Cape Cod area worked together to twist young saplings into a 3D-form Patrick had dawn as a one-dimensional guideline on a scrap of ordinary graph paper. This process, like the others in the StickWorks portfolio of more than 300 creations began with Patrick’s son Sam as a collaborator. Wrapping their organic energies together their project designs are philosophically rooted. Patrick says, “each structure’s lifecycle will take three weeks to build, have one great year of life, then another so-so year of life before it returns to the earth. It’s just the way life is. We need to learn the lessons of appreciating what we are, who we’re with and what we can build together before time takes it away.”
Considering the history of Highfield Hall’s gilded-age mansion and it’s link to the Beebe family who made their initial fortune in 1800’s by supplying blankets to Union Soldiers during the Civil War, I asked if there was significance to the Cape Cod setting for a man who lives south of the Mason-Dixon line. With soft southern charm he reiterated, the lessons of building with saplings are universal.
Like the sky-scraping castles they build the father and son criss-cross the globe to share their Stick Houses. Each new location is home base for three weeks before retuning to North Carolina for a week of rest before construction begins on the next communal project. When asked how they cope with set backs or injuries Patrick thought for a second and said, “we just solider on.”
With hives to shape, mazes to build, and windows to frame Patrick and Sam Dougherty continue to share the meaning of Stick Houses with kids, parents and grandparents. Awe, imagination and laughter never need translation. From D.C. to Denmark, Iowa to Ireland, Massachusetts to Montreal, the sense of fellowship and fun is cross-generational, international and a reminder ” To everything there is a season.”
Tour, picnic and play in the 5 star gardens, walking trails and nearly 400 acres of Highfield Hall and Gardens 56 Highfield Drive Falmouth, MA. The four-season property is open to all and free to visit dawn to dusk. Admission to the Museum that is an ever-evolving hub of cooking classes, musical performances and American history is $8.00 for adults, $5.00 for Seniors, Children under 12 and Active Military are Free
Upcoming Stick House’s will be built in Kensington, New Hampshire, Alabama’s Auburn University, and the U.S. Botanical Gardens in D.C. Look for Patrick Dougherty’s creations to pop up almost anywhere at any time. His schedule to share the WOW and wonder of his Stick Houses is booked through November 2020.
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*Ecclesiastes 3:1 To everything there is a season, and a time and a purpose under heaven.
Diane Kilgore is a journalist in the Greater Boston Area. She is a Cultural Contributor for NewBostonPost and creator of the lifestyle blog ‘To Di For.’