Patrick Dougherty’s work is nothing short of enchanting. The environmental artist has been a long-time favorite at Inhabitat for his incredible whirling willow sapling sculptures that are carefully constructed to resemble dancing gusts of wind. Dougherty recently used his stickwork skills to create Shindig, a site-specific series of towering twig huts made from six tons of willow saplings at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. The whimsical structures aren’t just a wonderful sight to behold—the sculptural shelters are also interactive, inviting the public to explore inside.
Dougherty’s works are immediately recognizable. The acclaimed North Carolina-based sculptor has constructed over 250 twig sculptures worldwide in the past thirty years. Shindig was recently installed as part of Wonder, an exhibit that celebrates the opening of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery after an extensive two-year, $30 million renovation.
The irregular and towering sculptures are dispersed across the 2,400-square-foot room, some soaring to a height of 16-and-a-half feet tall. The tilting huts are punctuated with doorways and windows that aren’t immediately visible, creating a sense of intrigue.
A description of his work in the gallery room explains: “Each structure is unique, an improvised response to its surroundings, as reliant on the materials at hand as the artist’s wishes: the branches tell him which way they want to bend. This give and take lends vitality to Dougherty’s work, so that walls and spires are a record of gestures and wills. Finding the right sticks remains a constant challenge, and part of the adventure of the art-making sends him scouring over the forgotten corners of land where plants grow wild and full of possibility.”
“Everyone has a sensation about sticks,” said Dougherty in a video at the Renwick Gallery, adding that most people will have some sort of positive childhood experience with the material. His stunning sculptures, however, have a deceptively natural appearance that belies the amount of processing and work required. In addition to leaf removal, Dougherty and his team of workers have to freeze the wood for two weeks to kill pests and then treat it with fire retardant. Dougherty prefers to work with saplings because of their flexibility. Shindig will remain on view until July 10, 2016 at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Images © Lucy Wang