Skip to main content

Tree House

Sculptor Patrick Dougherty turns sticks into structure

When Patrick Dougherty was a boy growing up in North Carolina, he spent hours in the woods, building forts and treehouses.

“The stick is an imaginative object; you imagine things around it,” Dougherty says. “For kids … three sticks on the sidewalk is a structure, with a kitchen, bathroom and living room. The imagination fills the rest of it.”

Patrick Dougherty's sculpture, On the Fly, will be on display at UVA's Arts Grounds for about two years. Robert Llewellyn
Dougherty, now a celebrated sculptor with a shock of white hair and hands yellowed from leather work gloves, imagines all of his art around sticks. He has created more than 200 large-scale sculptures in sites all over the world, and this October, he built on UVA’s Arts Grounds.

Dougherty and a team of volunteers created On the Fly, a gathering of five large, whirling structures, by weaving together thousands of locally sourced saplings that had already been marked for clearing. On the Fly will be in place for the next two years.

What’s unique about this piece, says Dougherty, is that it can be viewed from the walkway and from above. He built skylights into each roof and varied each container’s size and height to create a sense of upward momentum. “I don’t think I’ve done that exact thing [before],” he says.

On the Fly is large enough for adults and children alike to step inside it, and Dougherty hopes that they will. “It’s one thing to say, ‘I saw that sculpture,’” says Dougherty. “It’s another to say, ‘I couldn’t help myself; I went down and got in it.’”