Wow: Stick Man

Stickwork by Patrick Dougherty. Princeton Architectural Press, 2010. 9781568989761. 208pp.

Gene: Patrick Dougherty is a sculptor who works with sticks. (opens book)
Sarah: Oh wow!
G: I know.
S: Are those elephant butts or faces?
G: He works onsite at museums and gardens and parks. When he goes in (he needs a bunch of volunteers to help) he has to figure out what kind of sticks will work with the site. Sometimes the site is trees or a building or the inside of a building. And then he has to find a source of sticks nearby. The intro says that because of urban expansion, trees are often cleared from lots, and small sticks will grow there. Before a lot is cleared again for final construction, there are enough sticks for him to harvest. Dougherty works in different layers, and the first phase is anchoring bigger sticks in the ground to act as structure. Then he weaves in smaller sticks, and keep weaving them in until shapes appear.
This book includes not just photos of freestanding structures but big swirly shapes, some look like they’re windblown or organic…
S: Like they’re put together by birds.
G: And others look like big houses. It’s a look at his career up until the publication date.  (looking at another photo) This is a giant swirly pattern in a room. It’s not quite as full as some of the other sculptures. It really looks like if you sketched the wind.
S: It’s cool that he uses local sticks. That makes it more environmental, right?
G: It’s renewable, and the sticks would be removed anyway…
This is one of my favorites, Holy Rope.
S: Twining through a tree…oh, you can go inside it!
G: It was in Chiba, Japan. It’s a swirl of a treehouse, and there’s a photo of two people inside looking out at us.
This is Little Big Man and it was in Denmark. It’s a weird guy who looks like he’s made of wind. He’s just above a pond or marsh.
S: Spooky.
G: Creepy as hell.

G: A lot of his sculptures create spaces inside that you can wander into, like in the eye of a storm. There are almost no photos from the insides of the sculptures, but there are a few looking into them.
And look, you can see some of his preliminary sketches, and there are photos of volunteers harvesting saplings.
Sarah: They’re really big! I was imagining them smaller.
G: Some are, some aren’t. There’s an essay on each of the works. He talks about the volunteers’ skepticism about what he’s doing, and their disbelief that, looking at his sketches, the design will ever work out. Because when you start with that first stick in the ground it doesn’t look like anything. He just has to keep layering and layering and layering until it’s there.
He also talks about how these are not permanent. They decay in the environment. Here’s a photo of one that’s collapsed in the snow in the winter, and it’s still cool looking.
S: I like that it includes the volunteers and the materials. An artist friend of mine was talking about when people talk about art, the things they leave out. The giant hemlock in the lobby of the Seattle Art Museum, she walked past someone saying That’s a cedar tree made out cedar. No, it’s not. It’s a hemlock tree made out of cedar.
G: I don’t know what you’re talking about. Where is that?
S: Hanging sideways. It looks like a hollow dead tree, right over the ticket area.
G: Downstairs?
S: Sort of in the middle.
G: Near where the flipping cars used to be?
S: Flipping cars?
G: They looked like they were exploding.
S: I didn’t see that.
G: It was there for a long time. I think they were Hyundais. It had something to do with 9/11.
S: It had been a while since I’d gone. Apparently people who worked for Weyerhaeuser helped put the tree together. But the docents don’t bother to mention that.
G: This is Threadbare. I think it’s my favorite. He tried to make a visual representation of the way kids draw houses. And so these houses are leaning at crazy angles. This was at the University of Cincinnati. Look at the little sketches, which he makes on photos of the site.
Reading this I learned that sticks always look better in the winter. Like Chewbacca with the snow on him — you can see the texture of his fur a little better
I almost never buy art books — I’m always convinced I’ll never look at them again. But I can’t stop picking this one up. It even inspired me to make a ball out of sticks at a friend’s house. It took me, my wife, and my buddy hours to make. It wasn’t too hard to twist it, but wow, did it give a sense of the work involved and the level of difficulty.

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