North Carolina eco-artist Patrick Dougherty's two-story willow creation will greet visitors this summer at the arboretum.
A pile of sticks is rising from the earth at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.
Patrick Dougherty, an internationally known environmental artist, is building a massive willow sculpture on a stage in front of the visitor center. The organic art installation is part of this summer's "Big Build" exhibit.
He'll toil for 17 days with the help of 75 volunteers to unload five trucks of branches, build scaffolding and weave the willow into a form inspired by the site and surroundings. Dougherty will reveal the name of the completed work at a ceremony on May 22.
We talked to Dougherty last week about his passion for creating artwork from sticks.
Q Your job is pretty unusual. What do you tell people you do for a living?
A I'm a sculptor, but it's hard to explain that I use tree saplings. It helps if I have a picture to show them. They always compare it to making forts.
Q Did you build stick forts when you were a kid?
A I spent a lot of time in the woods making stick and pine straw tepees in North Carolina with my brothers and sisters. Now I'm choosing sticks to play out adult ideas. My work encourages people to reminisce about their own childhoods when they built forts and made things.
Q How did you become an environmental artist with more than 150 works all over the world?
A When I worked in hospital administration, I would look out my office and see carpenters who were having more fun. I enjoyed making things. So I decided to go back to school and become a sculptor. I decided that sticks would be a good vehicle to carry out my ideas.
It was an available material because sticks are a product of suburban society. When they clear forests, they produce lots and lots of saplings.
Q You're 64 years old and you have jobs scheduled into 2012. What keeps you going?
A I think that I'm a maker and as long as I get to work with natural materials, I'm really happy. I love the challenge of trying to fit something onto a site and make it look like it has the feeling of a natural phenomenon -- like it somehow might have blown in on the wind.
Q What was your first sculpture?
A In the early 1980s I built human stick figures that sat in chairs. My first works were displayed in art galleries and at art centers. Then I started making architectural folly, and that expanded my work to buildings 30 feet high.
Q Which sculpture was the most grueling to build?
A In Ireland, I made a stick tower about 45 feet tall that was wrapped around a tree. We had to work in the rain every minute, every day.
Q What's your strangest-looking creation?
A I've made some kachina masks that were as big as a house with faces on both sides. You look at them and they look back at you.
Q Your other works resemble wine bottles, tropical huts and palaces. How will you determine the size and shape of the arboretum piece?
A It's serendipitous. I get ideas when I get there and look at the materials, the view and what works best from the site. I may make a little model of it. I have three weeks to make a great sculpture.
Q Why is three weeks the magic number?
A If you stay somewhere longer than three weeks, you have to move there. My wife wants me home one weekend a month.
Q It looks like really physical work. Are you sore at the end of the day?
A I've done this for a long time and I'm used to it. Sometimes my shoulder hurts, but it's just like being a ditch digger or cabinetmaker. It's an occupation with pain.
Q How long do the sculptures last? Are you sad when they're torn down or are destroyed by the elements?
A About two years. I'm more interested in the process of making something new and then turning it over to the viewer.
Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619