Rebuilding Connections: The Collaborative Works of Patrick Dougherty

Modern life makes it easy to lose our connection to nature, to others and to our childhood. Can art help?

Close Ties, 2006 Scottish Basket Maker's Circle, Dingwall, Scotland Image © Fin McCrea

Close Ties, 2006
Scottish Basket Maker’s Circle, Dingwall, Scotland
Image © Fin McCrea

River Vessels, 2010 Waco Arts Festival, Waco, Texas Image © Mark Randolph

River Vessels, 2010
Waco Arts Festival, Waco, Texas
Image © Mark Randolph

Patrick Dougherty builds fantastic nest and hut forms from saplings, fusing sculpture and crafting with architecture. After designing a project, he recruits people to help him with construction, teaching them how to weave and work with sticks. Inviting the public to be involved in the joy of creation is a wonderful way to spread the word about a new installation and give the community a sense of ownership and participation in the art. Materials are drawn from local plants which are often grown and harvested specifically for the project.

Call of the Wild, 2002 Museum of Glass, Tacoma Washington Image © Duncan Price

Call of the Wild, 2002
Museum of Glass, Tacoma Washington
Image © Duncan Price

Over the years, Dougherty has built more than 250 installations all over the world. He describes his creations as “whimsical, ephemeral, and impermanent”. You might see a striking resemblance to illustrations by Dr. Seuss. Parts of us which we put away when we grew up into serious adults start to thaw out and wake up in the presence of this kind of whimsy. Why do we insist on being so serious?

Uff da Palace, 2010 Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Chaska, MN Image © Todd Mulvihill

Uff da Palace, 2010
Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Chaska, Minnesota
Image © Todd Mulvihill

Last January, Dougherty built Boogie Woogie in Hermann Park, here in Houston, from saplings of Chinese tallow. Chinese tallows are ubiquitous here, accounting for almost a fourth of all trees in Houston (Wikipedia). These quick growing and weak trees, despite their pretty leaves, are invasive and it is actually illegal to sell, distribute or import them in Texas. I’m constantly pulling them out of my garden. They are perfect for this kind of application, because no one will miss them.

Boogie Woogie is designed to look like an ancient glyph or symbol when viewed from above. I really enjoy the variable height of the roof, with its dramatic slopes. You can see the sky quite easily through that lightly woven roof, which makes being inside even more magical.

This is a lovely video featuring Pomp and Circumstance, an installation built in 2011 at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. It is part of the Inspired By… series by Shwood Eyewear, which presents artists and creatives operating in the Pacific Northwest, and was filmed by Gary Tyler Mcleod and Austin Will. They did a wonderful job of capturing the humble and generous spirit of Dougherty and his work, which never ceases to draw you in.

Video via Shwoodshop on YouTube.

I am fascinated by the value of illusion here. First of all, the eye is fooled into believing the nests are lighter and more fragile than they are. In fact, Dougherty’s goal is to make something that looks simple and haphazard despite the complexity and sturdiness of the weave. His work is inviting rather than intimidating. The Monk’s Cradle below looks as if it will collapse at any moment, but it is completely stable.

Monk's Cradle, 2012 College of St Benedict and St John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota © Thomas O'Laughlin

Monk’s Cradle, 2012
College of St Benedict and St John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota
Image © Thomas O’Laughlin

Secondly, Dougherty creates spaces that suggest an alternate reality to our modern, computer driven society. From inside one of his nests you get the feeling that the world is a playful, imaginative place. You can imagine leaving normal life behind to wander and cavort here indefinitely. It reminds me of my childhood playhouse, which was an a-frame design built from scrap plywood. It wasn’t nearly as cool, but it gave me a similar feeling. Dougherty does a wonderful job of cultivating enchantment and contagious joy, evident in both the construction and exhibition phase of his creations. It makes me want to go out and play. Put your shoes on; the last one outside is a rotten egg!

All images are used in accordance with Fair Use Policy for educational and analytical purposes.

Leave a Reply