Marfa Spark

A conversation with Patrick Dougherty

Forgive me for being away. The past eight months of playing music on the road held me by the collar and ransomed my time. I guess I would never have ended up asking artists about the process of making their own way if I weren't trying to do the same thing myself - and I am grateful for being a working artist. On tour, a kind person here or there would ask me, when is the next interview? I would say, I just spoke with the most incredible sculptor, Patrick Dougherty.

Patrick and I met last year. (Yes. That's how behind I am). I had the pleasure of going to his handmade home. It was a warm afternoon, we had coffee in the shade of the stone kitchen, then we talked on his screened in porch. His son was working in a beautiful vegetable garden and joined us for awhile. I've said it before and I'll say it again - people who make unique and meaningful work are usually making unique and meaningful lives. As much as I am fascinated by his womb like stick sculptures, I am filled with admiration for his home life.

A bit of oversimplified biography: Patrick spent many years as a hospital administrator. He entered an art program. He bought a cabin and began expanding it by hand. He went in the back yard and made his first sculpture out of sticks. He invented his work without knowing what it was. He followed his principles, his joys, his dreams, the parts of all of us that knock about inside each of us and point to something larger without us understanding what they are. He cultivated his work into a primal home shape that challenges and invites our notions of care and shelter. He made his own way and brought his family with him.

I was really curious what Patrick would say about his time as a hospital administrator. He gave it much credit for his ability to organize, think things through, work hand in hand with large organizations. It was part of what formed him, an absolute resource. Like each stick in his sculptures, Patrick is willing to gather strength and wisdom over time, to allow each branch a value yet to be understood.

When I talk to a person of great perception like Patrick, I experience immediately their humility and their ability to move around freely in the largeness of the human heart. Patrick talked about lending himself to the forces of the shadow self -- things beyond his own experience and common to us all in a fundamental way. Not everyone can throw down their guard and open themselves to that kind of compassion or primal power. I loved hearing him speak about the the shadow self in all of us. Perhaps that shadow self finds a home, a refuge impermanent but no less important, in the wind blown shape of his shelters. If we could all be so lucky ---

His sculptures

Patrick's book Stickwork which is so lovely

Picture of his handmade home in The New York Times (credit: Randy Harris for the NYT)
For lots more, Patrick's website