Interview With Willow Artist Patrick Dougherty

Q&A With Artist Patrick Dougherty on New Kid-Friendly Sculpture

Q&A With Artist Patrick Dougherty on New Kid-Friendly Sculpture

In January, internationally acclaimed artist Patrick Dougherty created a new large-scale willow sculpture, Wingding, at the Bay Area Discovery Museum (BADM). Dougherty, who has created more than 250 monumental scale environmental works over the last 30 years, constructed the piece on-site from January 9 through January 27 with the help of 76 volunteers.

Being his third sculpture at the museum, Dougherty wanted to make sure it felt different from his previous willow installations in 2012 and 2004. “This time I wanted to work with a bit more of a recognizable form,” says Dougherty, so he based his design on oversized jars.

To learn more about his creative process, we chatted with Dougherty about his inspiration for the installation. Read on to get a sense of his intentions and hopes for the artwork, plus, watch the time-lapse video below to see how this beautiful sculpture took shape.

What was your inspiration for this willow sculpture?  

My inspiration came from several sources including: the fable of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves where the thieves hide in jars; online images of the Plain of Jars in Laos [an archaeological landscape with thousands of stone jars] with children playing among the funerary jars spread across acres of land; and, also online, exploring street scenes of developing countries where clay jars are still important to daily life. These [sources of inspiration] led me to want to give children at BADM a set of oversized jars with the opportunity to explore within.

How did you come up with the name for the sculpture and what does it mean to you?

The sculpture is called Wingding. These jars are a jolly bunch and, when they have a party, they invite children to a big “wingding.” I hope children will be intrigued by the name and use it to celebrate.

How much did you factor in the museum environment and children audience when you came up with the design for this piece?

I have worked at the same site twice before, and each time I wanted to maximize the experience for kids wandering in and about the stickworks and to create an interesting view from above. The tops of the jars can be seen from an elevated walking trail [in Lookout Cove].

What do you hope visitors (both parents and children) get out of your new sculpture? How do you hope they interact with it?

 I gave this particular work many doors and windows for exploration, while being careful to leave avenues between objects sufficient to avoid any feelings of entrapment. The goal was to have intimate interior spaces but enough room for a feeling of freedom. The work is eminently interactive, and allows small children to escape from parents for a moment and to be picked up again on the other side.

At the Bay Area Discovery Museum, our mission is to transform research into early learning experiences that inspire creative problem solving. As an artist who is regularly tasked with coming up with new and innovative pieces of artwork, how do you approach the creative thinking process in your work? Do you have any words of wisdom for other artists—or even children—as they exercise their creativity?

Creativity requires suspending judgment while exploring ideas. Yet, to build an actual work requires practicality. Ultimately, creativity means bringing an idea together with practical solutions.


Photos by Stian Rasmussen

About the Contributor
Jennifer Moncayo-Hida was formerly the Senior Communications Manager at the Bay Area Discovery Museum.