Kids Learn Installation Art-Patrick Dougherty

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I’ve been a fan of artist Patrick Dougherty ever since I saw some of his work in college. I’m sure I saw it via slides in a slide projector, because I am THAT OLD.

Patrick Dougherty sculpture

Dougherty began making small woven stick sculptures in 1980, but moved onto giant, site-specific installations that he continues to create now. He utilizes volunteers and assistants to help him gather, clean and weave twigs and saplings for his sculptures.


patrick dougherty sculpture

Spinoffs Decordova Museum, Lincoln, Massachusettes, 1990. Photographer: George Vasquez.


I love the idea of a big inclusive group of people working together to make a giant piece, and a similar project can be adapted for a group of kids. There’s an artist named Susan Perrine who hires herself out to plan and facilitate just such a project, and she worked with an entire group of 7th grade kids and their teachers to make a 12′ garden hut over the course of a day. Photos here: twig house


Kids are drawn to Dougherty’s massive sculptures because they are:

1. Made out of sticks

2. Giant and crazy-looking, like the best forts in the world

And that’s why I like them, too.


Patrick Dougherty giant stick sculpture

The Summer Palace Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, 2009. Photographer: Rob Cardillo


Here’s our version of a Patrick Dougherty project that’s a perfect introduction to weaving and working with nature to make a piece of art.

You will need:

  • A trellis (these are from Lowes- click the pic for details)

plant trelliswooden trellis

  • twigs and/or vines- you can use green ones if you snip the leaves off. They will be more pliable. Otherwise, use brown ones and be careful so they don’t snap. Or soak them in a baby pool for 2-3 days!
  • garden clippers
  • twine or thin wire for securing your twigs if they’re not long enough to weave in very far


Weaving is such a simple concept but exceedingly satisfying when you start to see your piece coming together. Just begin weaving around the form at the bottom and work your way up. For the top part we used small, really bendy twigs. The vines we used weren’t pliable enough to weave in and out of the very close-together bars, so we would skip going under a bar or two.

When we got to the top, we would tuck in the bigger end of the vine and wrap it around the outside of the trellis before weaving in the narrow end. When we got to the outer vines, we tucked the wider end in under a bar, wrapped the vine around the form, and then tucked in the small end.


weaving a trellis

See how much fun this child is having?


finished stick topiary

The finished product! You can definitely go nuts and cover the whole piece completely with sticks. I may have to keep adding onto this slowly. Here’s where the thinking comes in: talk about what this sculpture might look like in a month or two. What will happen to it as it sits outside taking hits from the rain, wind and curious animals?

This idea is inherent in Dougherty’s work. His pieces are built up from natural materials and eventually return to the earth.


Stickwork by Patrick Dougherty

This is a new book of his work, including anecdotes and further insight into his work and methods. This would be a great addition to your lovely coffee table art book collection.

See Patrick Dougherty’s website for more information about his work and some really cool videos.

See my other posts in this series:

Kids Learn Installation Art: Andy Goldsworthy

Kids Learn Installation Art: Christo and Jeanne-Claude



  1. 05/28/2012 / 10:41 am

    Cool stuff! I used to live near the Decordova and went there all the time. Great for kids! Love what your daughter created. Great too because you can make it outside!

  2. 05/28/2012 / 5:42 pm

    I remember slide projectors…love this post and the project is fantastic.Wish I saw the DeCordova with this piece – love it.

  3. 05/28/2012 / 8:00 pm

    Yes, this is awesome. These structures are straight out of a kid’s storybook and they give me chills and I love them. 🙂

  4. 05/28/2012 / 11:15 pm

    Oooh- I looked up the Decordova. It looks really cool. How amazing to be able to see one of these in real life!

  5. 05/28/2012 / 11:15 pm

    Slide projectors were the best! I actually got a chance to use one again about a year ago, and it made me so happy.

  6. 05/28/2012 / 11:16 pm

    How cool if someone would write a mysterious, wonderful kids’ story to go along with these pieces.

  7. 05/29/2012 / 4:55 am

    i’m a serious dummy when it comes to this kind of art, but i’m learning so much from you girl! thanks

  8. 05/29/2012 / 12:53 pm

    Amazing and I’ve never been to the Decordova museum though it’s right near my house! Thanks for motivating me. The stick house isn’t there anymore, though, right?

  9. 05/29/2012 / 8:08 pm

    Oh, yay! I’m glad you’re getting something out of these posts. You’ll be all art snobby in no time.

  10. 05/29/2012 / 8:11 pm

    You’ll have to take a little field trip and report back with what you find out. I doubt it’s still there since the photo was from 1990. It must have long since blown away…

  11. Bonnie Kelso
    06/01/2012 / 2:19 pm

    I love this. You are AWESOME.

  12. 11/08/2012 / 8:13 am

    Oh, I love this! I’m sure I’ve seen pictures of his work before. It’s fascinating!

  13. 04/06/2014 / 7:47 pm

    Cool idea! We got to walk around inside of one of Patick’s sculptures at The Bascomb in Highlands, North Carolina in 2010. I felt like a kid playing hide and seek! it was really neat to see its structure!
    I’d like to try your idea with my young art class-thanks for sharing!

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