Nesting Instinct

An environmental artist brings his handmade “stickwork” sculptures to Brooklyn.

ARTIST: Patrick Dougherty

LOCATION: Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Brooklyn, New York

“As a child I bugged my mother by constantly declaring, ‘I bet I could make that,’ about everything from bicycles to rock gardens to a new pair of shoes,” Patrick Dougherty writes in the preface to his new book, Stickwork (Princeton Architectural Press). It’s a fitting beginning for an environmental artist who has crisscrossed the globe for the last 25 years, constructing robust structures out of willowy twine. For his latest installation, Natural History, at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, he built a collection of five leaning huts intended to be, in his words, havens for “feral children and wayward adults.”

Like all of his projects, the site-specific work was completed over a three-week period with the help of volunteers schooled in Dougherty’s weaving technique. “It turns out that most people do know something about sticks,” he says. “They’ve kind of tangled with them in their backyard, and they’ve played with them as children.” Materials are gathered locally whenever possible, and the finished installation is often allowed to decay over time. (On average, the installations stay up for two years before being dismantled.) Rather than build geometric forms typical of contemporary architecture, the sculptor opted for structures with a more primal feel, to entice urbanites to “emote with the flowers and trees around them.” Of course, for some visitors, the sculptures offer not just the solace of nature but a creative solution for that all-too-vexing problem of overpriced real estate. “Oftentimes,” Dougherty says, “women will turn to their husbands and say, ‘Honey, we could live here.’”

Recent Programs