Patrick Dougherty’s Pick-Up Sticks

Bending, weaving, twisting, and intertwining sticks to form anything from beehives to castles to nests, artist Patrick Dougherty takes what nature provides and creates mesmerizing sculptures, stand-alone structures, and quasi-modern, primitive architecture that are complex and simple, elegant and playful.

Stickwork, published by Princeton Architectural Press, is Dougherty’s first monograph, featuring thirty-eight pieces of work that blur the lines between architecture, fine art, and landscape design. In each essay, he looks back at the challenges he faced with each installation. In the first essay Dougherty writes of his early career, the lure of New York City and dreaming of getting noticed. In 1988, his wish came true with three separate opportunities that included creating human figures from twigs, “No Such Thing as Nervous,” for Broadway Windows on the corner of Broadway and Tenth Street. The second installation, “High Falutin’,” was designed for the lobby of the World Trade Center, and made from red maple saplings that swirled around ladders borrowed from Putnam Ladder Company on Howard Street. The last piece, “Sailors Take Warning” was built on the grounds of the Sailors’ Snug Harbor on Staten Island. The piece was reminiscent of a wave breaking through a window, spilling through the third floor and showering down a bannister to the next floor and the lobby.

Dougherty writes of the logistical challenges of each installment, which included traffic issues, storing the saplings, dealing with unions, and even facing a stern reprimand by a fire chief for bringing sticks into a historical building.

The challenges of working in New York proved to be the springboard for Dougherty to create his sculptures in other parts of the United States, as well as Europe and Asia. During a trip to Scotland, Dougherty created “Close Ties” that was built at Brahan Highland Country Estate in the Scottish Highlands. The purpose of the project was to build a simple structure that was large enough to be seen from a distance. Inspired by a picture of an ancient stone circle, Dougherty decided to mimic the stone shapes using willow saplings he had gathered at Brahan. Aided by basket makers who came from all over Scotland to help bring his project to completion, Dougherty admiringly writes of his fellow weavers:

“With them, they brought a deep appreciation for the material as well as their tales of sticks, especially their own local varieties. It also became clear that these stalwart souls were weatherproof and could work fruitfully despite wind or rain.”

An endnote to the project will have readers smiling: Dougherty comments that most of his sculptures meet their demise in an ordinary manner– they eventually disintegrate and are absorbed back into their habitat. In the case of “Close Ties” the send-off was spectacular–a music and dance festival with a celebratory burning.

Dougherty’s modesty in describing each of his projects and the process allow the images to do the talking to the reader. And the talking is wild, elegant, unusual, artsy, and even funny. Stickwork showcases a memorable and fantastical world that will inspire readers to examine their personal ties and sentiments to their own natural environments whether it’s a city park or way out in the sticks.

To view more of Patrick Dougherty’s work, please visit,

By Patrick Dougherty
Princeton Architectural Press, 2010
208 pages, 230 color photographs and 20 and black and white.
Price: $34.95