Temple of Twigs
For two years, an eerie, twisted fairytale dwelling
arose from a grassy meadow at the Santa Barbara
Botanic Garden. Toad Hall was 27 feet tall, with
a domed roof, windows, and doors. It was built
entirely of twigs.
“Of course I’m a lightning rod for it,” says artist
Patrick Dougherty, “but people tell me about
their favorite sticks and trees all the time.”
Who better to tell? He’s crafted more than 150
stick sculptures in two decades, and his new works
continue to decorate open spaces, indoor museums, and cityscapes in the United States, Europe,
Dougherty starts each project with a reconnaissance trip to the site. He soaks in the scenery —
nearby trees, architecture, roads — and hunts for
sources in the area where he can gather building
materials. A willow farm in Pescadero, Calif., offers
saplings by the truckload; a swath of logged land
hosts plenty of exposed brush ripe for trimming.
“The fact that [the material] comes from the
natural world provides a lot of associations for
people — you start reminding them of their place in
it and their relationship to it,” he says.
Back home in North Carolina, Dougherty sketches.
He returns with the focus and determination of
a weaverbird, bringing twig after twig together
without glue or nails. The wood, he explains, has
its own “infuriatingly capable way of snagging.”
Sometimes the sculptures are so large that they
need added support, in which case he builds scaffolding out of larger branches dug deep into the
earth. The works can top 40 feet high and take weeks
to complete, but they’ll last years if left untouched.
“You see a kid playing with a stick and he knows
everything about it,” Dougherty says. “He knows it’s
a tool, a weapon, and a magic wand.”
The artist — who’s built twig renditions of castles,
giant heads, and house-sized teapots — seems to
know that sticks can be even more than that.
—Megan Mansell Williams
>> Dougherty’s sculptures: