Summer Palace, 2009, Morris Arboretum, Philadelphia, PA. Stickwork sculpture by Patrick Dougherty. Photo: Rob Cardillo.
“The groves were God’s first temples.” With these words, American poet William Cullen Bryant began his classic poem, A Forest Hymn. Said to be written in farewell to the thick foliage and tall trunks of his native Massachusetts as he moved to New York City in 1824, they are a literary reflection of Bryant’s religious belief and love of nature.
They might well, however, be said in reference to the Stickwork sculptures of Patrick Dougherty, a North Carolina artist who weaves literally yards and yards of birch or ash or willow saplings, what nature has to offer him, into whorls of imaginative castles, nests, cocoons and, yes, temples. I first saw Dougherty’s work when he transformed the tranquil riverside lawn of the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, CT, with a sort of imaginary vine covered architectural ruin—its highlight a 22′ high round tower, then a square tower, all interconnected with various architectural walls and archways in between.
I, along with so many other viewers, enthusiastically explored the interior, walking in and out of doors, peering around others. The 1,000 square feet creation remained in place for probably two years, six tons of native birch and bayberry saplings freezing in place the poetic drama of nature.
Dougherty’s schedule takes him this year from sites as distant as the U/S. Embassy in Belgrade, Serbia and as near as the Hands on Children’s Museum in Olympia, Washington and the North Carolina Zoo in Ashboro, North Carolina. If you can’t make it to any of them, keep an eye out for the “Bending Sticks” film documentary premiering this year.