Building Castles

Patrick Dougherty is a North Carolina artist who builds amazing structures from tree saplings and sticks. His works are remarkably detailed. They evoke movement with their swirling lines and often skewed shapes. They provoke thought and reflection. Most of them invite you in, to experience them inside and out. And, by nature, they are ephemeral.

I can’t help but think we’re all building stick castles. We take the materials around us–the stuff life has dealt us–and build a structure we call ‘me’. Every ‘me’ is different and detailed, and many are wonky. Every ‘me’ is in motion–ever changing as we add new materials to our structure. Hopefully our ‘me’ invites people in for a more personal experience. And, ultimately, our structures are ephemeral.

Dougherty began building his stick structures with material that happened to be available in North Carolina. When he first started building structures in other places, he brought his materials with him. Over the years, he’s discovered that suitable materials can be found nearly everywhere, and he now finds what he needs close to where he’s working.

Likewise, we start off building our ‘me’ structures with the materials around us, and as we grow, hopefully we learn what we need to create strong selves. Hopefully we learn how to find those things, no matter where life takes us. The older we get, the more refined our technique, the more efficient and skilled we are at finding materials and building ‘me’. It doesn’t mean we aren’t wonky anymore–it means the wonkiness is perhaps more deliberate, planned, and stronger than it was before.

Dougherty builds about one structure a month, and he accepts that his artworks will only last two to four years. But though the artwork itself doesn’t last, its impact lingers in the hearts and minds of those who have experienced it. May our own ‘me’ castles do the same.

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