The “Stick Wizard” Comes to Cary

"Sea Change," Naples Botanical Garden, Naples, FL

If you’ve ever visited the North Carolina Museum of Art, you probably noticed the swirling stick sculpture on the wall of the art museum’s cafe. Entitled Out of the Box, this gorgeous 15- by 74-foot-long piece is the work of artist Patrick Dougherty. 

Dougherty, an internationally acclaimed “stick wizard” and resident of Chapel Hill, has built over 300 willow sculptures all over the world. With the help of community volunteers, Dougherty’s newest sculpture will be installed at Carpenter Park in Cary between March 7-25 as part of the Town of Cary’s environmental outreach program. 

In anticipation of his work, we caught up with Dougherty to learn more about the man behind this incredible art.

Tell us about your childhood in North Carolina — how has it influenced your work? 

My whole effort to become a sculptor as an adult dovetailed with a secret childhood dream to become an artist. I loved to make things and, like other children, I built forts and teepees and assorted “houses” of sticks. This may have later directed my choice of materials as a sculptor.

As a child, I loved the drawing quality of North Carolina’s winter landscape, which is often a tangle of intersecting natural lines. My siblings and I liked to imagine fantasy shapes drawn into the upper branches of trees, the way others see shapes in clouds. For me, tree branches and saplings also have rich associations with childhood play and with the shelters built by animals. Picking up a stick and bending it seems to give me big ideas.

What does bringing your artwork to the Town of Cary mean to you?

I always enjoy working close to home, the feeling that this is my neighborhood. Somehow the recognition of neighbors as opposed to that of strangers feels special, so I am honored that the Town of Cary has chosen to work with me.  

You have done willow installations all over the world — which is your favorite?

Each project has its unique challenges. I take great pleasure in the building process with all its problem solving. I love the challenge of trying to achieve the right scale and to build a work that seems integrated and blends well with its surroundings. I like to see children running towards the openings and people standing on the street and pointing. My favorite is always the sculpture I am working on. 

Who or what continues to inspire you?

When trying to find what to build for a particular setting, I look for starting points all around me. As I struggle to understand the location, I might see a word or a title on the newsstand, the outline of a mountain range in the distance, or hear a turn of a phrase from a passerby. The creative state of mind is one rich in connections, whereby words and images can blend and give rise to an inkling of a new idea.

What do you hope that residents experience or feel when looking at your completed work?

I have always imagined that my job is to make compelling work which stirs the viewer up, excites the imagination, and causes passersby to come running.  I hope that my work can touch peoples’ memories of childhood play or that first kiss under the lilac, can give them a sense of wonder and can remind them of their profound connection to the world of nature. 

To learn more about this project or to sign up as a volunteer to help Dougherty and his team, visit the Town of Cary’s website.

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