Sculptor, Patrick Dougherty and ‘A Passing Fancy’ in Falmouth, MA

Elaine A. King
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Patrick Dougherty is motivated to work with stick materials because of increased massive urbanization and the destruction of forests all over the United States.  Knowing that sticks have been a foundation for human survival across cultures and throughout time –being used for building shelters, ladders, and tools for hunting in addition to keeping warm and cooking—he finds them a universal material for his work.  Since the early 1980s Dougherty has been fabricating huge environmental installations that he calls Stickworks.  The majority of his large, quirky and temporary pieces take approximately three weeks to construct and each monumental sculpture is distinctly unique.  Prior to starting a work he takes time getting to know the milieu in which it will be created, oft visiting the place several times prior to its actual construction. The installation’s final shape results from Dougherty’s observations about the overall locale, the interaction of the volunteers in the community who help build the work, as well as the specificity of the site where it is erected.

The installation ‘stickwork,’ “A Passing Fancy,’ by Patrick Dougherty, sits on the lawn near Falmouth MA’s Highfield Hall & Gardens. Unless otherwise noted, photos by Brian Switzer Video.

The work at Falmouth, Massachusetts’ Highfield Hall is Patrick Dougherty’s 302nd “Stickwork” sculpture and it will be on view for approximately two years.  He titled this piece, “A Passing Fancy” because of its transient nature and because the extremes of Falmouth’s weather will play a significant role in the ever-evolving appearance of this fantastical maze, consisting of an estimated 19,000 pounds of sticks imported from a willow nursery in upstate New York State.  Over time this massive warren comprised of natural materials will fragment, break down and shift from being a carefully fabricated artwork slowly back into the natural landscape.

This looming work, housed on the front lawn of Highfield Hall, intends neither to convey a particular message nor is meant to be a precious “do not touch object,” often associated with artworks in museums or sculpture gardens.  It is a public art piece for the moment and is envisioned by the artist to be enjoyed, experienced and appreciated by visitors wandering through its curvilinear passages and peeking through its mysterious windows.  According to Dougherty, “It does kind of go with the life cycle that we all have, and flowerbeds and trees and everything have their own time.” This artist is only interested in viewers being interactive participants—it is a platform for their imaginations to a take a flight of fancy while exploring the magical labyrinth that he and 65 volunteers have built.

A Highfield Hall visitor appears several times in this Dougherty sculpture, multiple exposure.

Visitors are encouraged to interrelate with the tactile interwoven surfaces and its twisting and turning corridors that lead to curious alcoves, windows and doorways.  Despite the work’s inviting presence, an uncanny haunting sensibility pervades through this primitive mammoth habitat.  This ‘stickwork’ is reminiscent of a hobbit’s house or castle from a by-gone era because of its complicated web of natural saplings devoid of anything modern or technological.  Once inside this environment of twisted organic materials one might momentarily envision that you’ve been transported to Sherwood Forest or to the fictional world of middle earth from The Lord of The Rings.

Ground-level photo, ‘A Passing Fancy’ Photo: Highfield Hall & Gardens

Hopefully, this project marks the beginning of Highfield Hall & Gardens ongoing invitations to reputable artists, such as Patrick Dougherty, to produce imaginative public art on its grounds in future years.  No doubt cost is a germane factor for such endeavors.  However, thanks to the Hermann Foundation, Hutker Architects and Rockland Trust Patrick Dougherty; A Passing Fancybecame a real gift to the community of Falmouth and its many visitors!

Editor’s Note: According to Highfield’s Joanne Ingersoll, Curator of Programs and Exhibitions, Patrick was inspired by the fleur de lis motif, and she recently spotted this iron fleur de lis on the center’s roof over the billiard room. Photo: Courtesy Highfield Hall & Gardens.

Patrick Dougherty’s alluring sculpture evinces a fantasy world that affords visitors a momentarily escape from the reality of our day-to-day realm of violence, political trickery and technological bombardment.  Dougherty feels “A good sculpture is one that you can make personal associations with—does the piece remind you of childhood play, a bird’s nest you spotted, or a particular walk in the woods? I also think people imagine the sculptures as simple shelter, perhaps in a primeval forest or a Garden of Eden. Design is never daunting; it’s thrilling and complex. The more you have passion, understanding and preparedness, the more fun and rewarding it is!”[1] 

By Elaine A. King, Contributing Writer

Patrick Doughherty, ‘A Passing Fancy,’ through 2021

Highfield Hall & Gardens, Falmouth MA

[1] Leilani Marie Labong, “Branching Out With Patrick Dougherty,” Mountain Living,

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