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The Daily Tar Heel

Q&A with artist Patrick Dougherty

Patrick Dougherty
Patrick Dougherty will begin working on a sculpture made of sticks outside the Ackland.

Patrick Dougherty is a UNC alum and stick sculptor based in Chapel Hill. His work has been displayed at notable venues including the North Carolina Botanical Garden and the North Carolina Museum of Art. This month, he will be building a new structure outside the Ackland Art Museum.

Staff writer Marin Herold spoke with Dougherty about his past processes and his future goals.

The Daily Tar Heel: What inspires you to create the stick sculptures?

Patrick Dougherty: Well, I’d say artists just go ahead and do what they want and then make up the reason why they did it. Your initial inspirations are only inklings. I grew up down in Southern Pines and we played in the woods as kids and I think that sometimes childhood play can (serve) in your adult life in finding this material.

DTH: What differences does this particular piece coming to the Ackland have from other stick sculptures you have created in the past?

PD: One thing I try to do is think up something for a particular space. So, in this space that they’ve just remodeled in front of the Ackland, one thing we were talking about yesterday is that about two-thirds of the people that see this piece are going to be driving along the road and about one-third will be those people who are actually walking up or walking into the Ackland. So in a way, the piece needs to have a kind of skyline or something that is very clear about what it is and how it functions in front of the building. And then the people who go up and see it, of course, can touch and go inside it. You have to think about the scale, and think about how people are seeing it. And all those different factors kind of inform what you might make. So that point is still open. I’ve been thinking about it, and probably by tomorrow or the next day will have come up with some imagery that I think will really fit in front of the building. 

DTH: How does it feel to know that you'll soon have your work displayed in your hometown?

PD: It’s always great to work in Chapel Hill. I worked down at the North Carolina Botanical Garden a couple years ago and it was great. I think that might be a sign of having become a successful person to be honored in your own town. 

DTH: What is your hope for this stick sculpture in the Chapel Hill community?

PD: I think my job as a sculptor is to excite people’s imagination and make things that are so compelling that they come running over to take a look at them. There’s a tremendous amount of sidewalk traffic there. It’s a main street for Chapel Hill so there’s just an ongoing flow of traffic. there’s a lot of schoolchildren that come to the Ackland, and there’s the student body themselves because the museum is kind of tangential to the campus, but still a lot of students from the art department go over there. So, that’s a wide variety of audience to try to appeal to, but hopefully I can strike a chord with the people, all those different groups of people, and see if I can find something that digs in at a certain level and can appeal to everyone. 

DTH: What emotion do you want your audience to feel when they look at your stick sculpture? 

PD: Well, one thing I always think about is that a good sculpture is one that causes a lot of personal associations. In other words, it has starting points in your own life that might give you a way of thinking about the sculpture or some initial interest in it. So, you know, it might be a bird nest you’ve seen when you walk out of your house in the morning, or the indigenous tribe in some faraway place, or a childhood experience where you’ve played in the woods, or maybe that was where you got your first kiss, or you know, you’ve taken a particular woods on and you really feel like you’ve gained a tremendous amount of sustenance by soul-searching there. So, I think the natural world is really important to everyone and in this day where we feel like it’s under some pressure from humanity, sculptures like this kind of remind you of a simple shelter (that can) transport you to personal experiences. 


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