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Amazing stick-built sculptures: Chapel Hill to get next tree sapling structure

Posted September 28
Updated September 29

The Patrick Doughtery Sculpture at the Museum of Life + Science in Durham was recently removed.

Ackland Art Museum in Chapel Hill will be the latest local destination to get a "stickwork" piece by the amazing local artist Patrick Doughtery.

Dougherty, who is based in Chapel Hill, has traveled the world to turn the simple tree sapling into sprawling structures, sometimes complete with domes and turrets. His works, over the years at kid-friendly destinations that include the Museum of Life and Science and the N.C. Zoo, have inspired countless games of hide and seek and so much imaginary play.

Construction of the piece at Ackland Art Museum will begin on Oct. 9 and continue through Oct. 27. It's the first major site-specific outdoor art installation that the museum has commissioned in nearly 20 years. The large-scale work will be made entirely of tree saplings that were responsibly harvested from Duke Forest and Triangle Land Conservatory.

The sculpture will sit in front of the museum, which is on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And, before it opens, it will be fascinating to watch as it rises from the ground.

Doughtery's outdoor works typically last for about two years before they must be taken down. Here's a look at three pieces that are still up in the Triangle - and three that were once family favorites.

The Big Easy at Duke Gardens

Built in February 2017, Doughtery used red maple and sweet gum saplings from Duke Forest to build this piece that stands about 40-feet-by- 20-feet wide and 18-feet tall. Find it in the open meadow known as the South Lawn. It's free to see.

"I was interested in making a work with high visibility that spoke less of shelter and more of circus, celebration, and whimsy," writes Doughtery of the piece. "The tops for the different towers were suggested by various shapes in the surrounding gardens. A potted plant on a nearby walkway inspired my favorite, the headdress on the second figure."

The Big Easy, a sculpture at Duke Gardens by Chapel Hill artist Patrick Doughtery

A Sight to Behold in Hillsborough

Built in November 2015, the sculpture, which sits along Hillsborough's Riverwalk, is going strong. The piece features one big tower that's surrounded by five smaller towers. It stands 26 feet in circumference and 21-feet tall. "The title emerged as a Southern colloquialism voiced by more than one passerby, "Well, isn’t that a sight to behold!'" writes Doughtery. It's free to see.

A Sight to Behold, a sculpture by artist Patrick Doughtery in Hillsborough

Out of the Box at the N.C. Museum of Art

Built in December 2009, this semi-permanent work is also the only one that sits inside. It stretches 70-feet long and 16-feet high and is made of maple saplings. It's free to see.

Out of the Box, a sculpture at the N.C. Museum of Art by artist Patrick Doughtery

Sweetgum Thicket at the Museum of Life and Science.

Built in February 2015, this favorite inside the Durham museum's Hideaway Woods exhibit was recently taken down. Exhibit designers are working to come up with a replacement.

Patrick Doughtery Sculpture

Ready or Not at the N.C. Zoo

Built in 2014 for the Asheboro zoo's KidZone natural play area, the piece has since been taken down. It was a family favorite - and even a bird favorite. Many made their nests among the red maple tree saplings.

Hide and Seek

Homegrown at the N.C. Botanical Garden

Also no longer standing, this was called Homegrown because it happened in Doughtery's hometown, the site of his earliest art endeavors and because it used only trees that grew in the vicinity.

Homegrown, a piece created by Patrick Doughtery, at the NC Botanical Garden

Can't wait to see what he comes up with at Ackland Art Museum!

Go Ask Mom features places to take kids every Friday. For more, check our posts on parks and playgrounds and Triangle family destinations.

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  • Stacie Hagwood Oct 1, 8:31 p.m.
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    I am curious about 2 things:
    1. What does a typical structure cost? (recognizing that lots of volunteers are involved)
    2. Can other types of wood be used? (And I'm thinking specifically about Chinese Privet, an invasive shrub/tree)