Friday, July 9, 2010

Pick-up sticks go a long way

Artist Patrick Dougherty creates a willow home

Express Staff Writer

Patrick Dougherty and volunteers construct a large-scale “tree house” on the site of the future home of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts in Ketchum. Photo by David N. Seelig

Many Ketchum residents and visitors have been watching piles of willow branches transformed into a work of art on the Simplot lot across from the Ketchum Post Office, thanks to the vision of artist Patrick Dougherty.

"It's a pre-history stick gallery," Dougherty said. "I like people to go inside and experience it."

Dougherty's site-specific installations are built using primitive techniques like twisting and weaving saplings and twigs rather than nailing them together. He has constructed more than 200 such massive structures, both indoors and out, at museums, universities, botanical gardens and other public spaces all over the world.

Dougherty's installation is part of the new exhibition, "Beam, Board, Breath: An Investigation of Trees" at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts in Ketchum and Hailey venues. Dougherty has received numerous awards for his work, including a North Carolina Artist Fellowship Award and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. His work has been widely published in books, magazines and newspapers and is the subject of an upcoming feature-length documentary by filmmakers Penelope Maunsell and Kenny Dalsheimer.

"I am casting an illusion that hopefully is pleasurable," Dougherty said. "Parents characterize [it by saying] that it would be good for kids, and what they really mean is it's good for them."

Dougherty said there are a lot of closet stick collectors in the world and has heard many stick collecting stories in his 30 years of producing such projects all over the world.

"People's interest in the natural world has increased," he said. "My work has built over the years because people are much more aware of my work. It's provocative and gets attention because of the way it gets built, garnering volunteers from the area."

The Center's installation will have had as many as 50 volunteers from the Wood River Valley community working on the construction.

Dougherty is also gaining recognition due to the many new venues that propose projects for him, including zoos, arboretums, public gardens and arts centers, because his work fits a need to use natural materials.

"The work has been conceptualized and the willows are similar to line drawings on paper," he said. "The best part of the process is to start doing it and learn on the way."

Dougherty will give a free talk on the installation at The Center in Ketchum on Wednesday, July 14, at 5:30 p.m. He will also have a new book, "Stickwork," published in August.

For details, visit

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