by Liza Roberts
photographs by Juli Leonard
It is fitting that famed stickwork artist Patrick Dougherty lives in a dwelling as magical as the colossal environmental art he creates out of swirling branches and twigs.
Deep in the Orange County woods, down a gravel driveway off a busy road, Dougherty’s log house stands in a glade surrounded by a herringboned outbuilding and a whimsical, purposeful stick fence.
What began decades ago as a one-room cabin, the house that he shares with his wife Linda, chief curator and curator of contemporary art at the North Carolina Museum of Art, has grown and evolved along with Dougherty’s own artistry.
For an artist of international acclaim, he came to the field relatively late. The UNC-Chapel Hill graduate earned an undergraduate degree in English and a master’s in hospital and health administration before heading back to UNC at 36 to study art.
By the early ’80s, he was combining his love of nature with his knowledge of sculpture, art, and carpentry to create works made of saplings. Woven, spun, braided, and twirled, his massive, cocoon-like creations look like nests shot out of a hurricane. They are structures to be entered and explored, experienced and touched. Over the last 30 years, he has built more than 250 of these giant works, and shown them all over the world.
Along the way, Dougherty has added to his modest house with additional rooms and decorative elements, like herringboned stick ceilings. He made outbuildings for storage, a stone wall and fountain, and a freestanding studio. He added land and built gravel walking paths that meander through the trees.
The result, like Dougherty’s art, is a self-contained environment at one with nature: part of it, informed by it, and also otherworldly.