Patrick Dougherty’s New Stickwork Sculpture Lures Morris Arboretum Visitors Into its Maze of Loops and Tunnels

Morris Arboretum has a new stickwork sculpture from Patrick Dougherty that is the ultimate hide-and-seek game with all of its nooks and crannies. This new piece, Loop de Loop is Dougherty’s third installation at the Arboretum (The Summer Palace in 2009, and A Waltz in the Woods in 2015). Reminiscent of a roller coaster with its numerous spirals and switchbacks, the sculpture is bound together at the top with sticks wound like pieces of twine, connecting nearly a dozen rooms below. One gallery blends into the next through a maze of light-filled tunnels.

During the last thirty years, Dougherty has created more than 300 sculptures worldwide. He holds each creation to a strict three-week time schedule that allows him to complete 10 pieces a year. As an artist-in-residence at the Arboretum in March, Dougherty designed a unique, site-specific piece of art that fits into the landscape as a wondrous structure rising up from the ground.

Materials for each installation are gathered from wherever they are plentiful, sometimes even on the side of the road.  This year, hundreds of willows sticks and saplings, including fragrant purple willow (Salix purpurea) and Miyabe willow (Salix miyabeana) were used, which came from upstate New York. Working with Arboretum staff and volunteers, Dougherty cut these pieces to various sizes and secured the largest stems into the ground for framework stability.  Next was the aesthetic work of weaving the pieces while also molding and shaping them. Dougherty says he sees how the piece is evolving, and makes enhancements along the way to create the most intriguing sculpture. The final phase involved fine tuning: erasing lines he doesn’t like, filling gaps with additional material, cutting away extraneous pieces, and embellishing with artful touches.

Dougherty is at peace with the fact that his creations are ephemeral. “I believe that artists should make what they love,” he says, adding, “The immediacy of looking is the power of art.” While he has made a few pieces indoors, most of his works are created outside. His goal with each piece is to help people understand their relationship with nature.

The sculpture will remain in place for as long as it lasts in the natural environment, anticipated to be two years.

For more information about Patrick Dougherty, visit:  This sculpture is supported by the Madeleine K. Butcher Fine Arts Endowment.

Morris Arboretum is one of more than 30 Philadelphia gardens in America’s Garden Capital. This 92-acre horticultural display garden features a spectacular collection of mature trees in a beautiful and colorful landscape.  The official arboretum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, effective 1988, Morris Arboretum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and accredited by the American Association of Museums.  For more information, visit:

Photo Credit:  Amanda DeLeo