By Alyssa Ramsfield
When coming face-to-face with a piece of Patrick Dougherty’s art, you can’t help but become astonished. Small, tree saplings braided together to create towering structures of whimsy. It’s an unbelievable sight that lights up curiosity amongst any age group. With inspirational work in various locations around the country, Dougherty is bringing his next sculpture to life at Olympia’s Hands On Children’s Museum.
The concept behind his work is a simple one. “This is all rooted in childhood play,” explains Dougherty. “We all have a little bit of our gathering life left. There is that indigenous know how for collecting useful items. The low level knowledge of sticks, simple shelter, and natural materials are ingrained in us. I just took this idea and pushed our natural boundaries. We look to a bird’s nest and see a natural phenomenon. I try to recreate that phenomenon in my pieces”
Dougherty’s sculptures push the limit of the imagination across the nation, one project at a time. “I’m always looking for the next piece,” states Dougherty. “It’s really about the process for me. My favorite piece is always the last one I’ve completed. I get so enthralled with my current work. I know that whatever I’m working on will be my next favorite. There is something about seeing that finished product that is so satisfying.”
The art that is created by Dougherty is methodically planned. “I try to keep my work load down to ten pieces each year. I want to do a piece better than the last each time I work. It takes a lot of people and materials beyond me to bring this together. While I try to make a plan ahead of time, the sculptures end up taking a life of their own.”
The first few days of planning for a sculpture include a massive gathering of the necessary items to make the sculpture. “The amount of material that is gathered is based on the size of the installation space. I always try to conceive an idea that fits into the area I’m working in. I never want to overreach the space. I usually use willow and vine maple for my projects. They are very flexible materials and easy to work with.”
These amazing works of art take an immense amount of time and effort. “Basically, the entire sculpture is a 21-day process,” explains Dougherty. “It’s divided into segments across three weeks: gathering, set up, and development. I usually work through the weekends with a crew of volunteers. There are about fourteen full, 8-hour days of work within the 21-day timeline.”
While the process of building is long, the piece doesn’t last forever. “Most of my art lasts an average of two years. The materials just begin to fall apart after time. It’s important to remember that these are living sculptures and the natural elements do take a toll. The work I completed for the Sausalito Discovery Museum lasted a longer time, but it was pieced back together and rebuilt. It requires some maintenance in order for the sculpture to last.”
Although Dougherty hasn’t been to the new Hands On Children’s Museum, he was inspired by the work site that he has viewed. “I’m really looking forward to seeing the finished product. It’s a beautiful location and building. I plan to make a worthy contribution to the museum. I want people to see my work and become inspired. I want to create something I may never get to do again. I plan to maximize my opportunity in Olympia by doing something different.”
Dougherty has a special plan in store for Hands On Children’s Museum visitors. “While I hope everyone enjoys my work, I want to gear the piece toward kids. I plan to incorporate surprises within the sculpture that are only visible at a child’s level,” he says.
The anticipation of Dougherty’s work will not have to last long. Installation of his latest creation begins on August 1, 2013. His original use of natural, living elements will be sure to delight museum supporters of all ages.
To learn more about Patrick Dougherty’s art, visit his website.