Stick sculptures — in 360

The latest artwork from Carolina graduate and sculptor Patrick Dougherty got its start in an overgrown field off Jones Ferry Road in Orange County.

On a chilly October morning, volunteers cut down and gathered a truckload of tree saplings and hauled them to the Ackland Art Museum, where Dougherty was hard at work on a series of sculptures made entirely from sticks.

Dougherty has built nearly 300 stick sculptures around the world. He sees the process the same way many artists do, but with different materials.

“I like working life-size,” Dougherty said. “It’s kind of a full-body activity. You’re using your whole body to bend and form lines, and for me, that was a way of extending drawing from the paper on to three-dimensional objects.”

Dozens of volunteers from Carolina and the surrounding community helped Dougherty gather the tree saplings, which were donated by the Triangle Land Conservancy and Duke Forest. Once the sticks arrived at the Ackland, volunteers removed their leaves, sorted them and prepared them for Dougherty to begin bending, shaping and weaving into place.

“My technique has been to dig holes and put bigger pieces, down in there, kind of structural pieces, big sticks, really,” Dougherty said. “It’s a little bit like making a canvas and drawing on it, because my second phase is really appliqueing a look on to the surface of the piece, and in that way, you’re really working at making a drawing.”

Dougherty’s sculptures are large enough to be walked through, so the third phase of his process involves final cosmetic changes to ensure an evenly-built and trimmed structure for visitors to see.

“It’s an honor to come back and work for the Ackland, and be able to work in their front yard and kind of show how much a simple idea can develop over a 35-year career.”

The sculptures, the Ackland’s first major, site-specific outdoor exhibition in nearly 20 years, will be on display through August of 2018.

Story and video by Rob Holliday, University Communications

Published Oct. 31, 2017