Western Isles
 Western Isles of Scotland

Willow Sculpture With Patrick Dougherty

For those who wondered why your Western Isles Web site was not updated a couple of weeks back...

The webmaster snuck off to the Brahan estate near Dingwall, as one of the team of volunteers helping American sculpture artist Patrick Dougherty create an enormous willow sculpture. Patrick has created over 100 very large "stick sculptures" all over the world from Japan to Brazil.

The landscape, sticks and ropes are Patrick's equivalent to canvas and paints and brushes.
A big space needs a big sculpture.


Patrick Dougherty Big Willow Sculpture
The two volunteers from the Western Isles were surprised to find that the inspiration for this willow sculpture was the Callanish Standing Stones. A starting point from which Patrick developed his own ideas.

The sculpture consists of eight fascinating forms, which make up the "stones", they range between nine and twenty feet in height.




Patrick Dougherty Big Willow Sculpture May 2006


The first impression is of a group of huge elemental, earthy and sinewy living beings, or perhaps they are tornadoes, Ents or hives? Whatever they are they seem to be moving...

Patrick Dougherty Sculpture Scotland

These flowing shapes have enticing openings and entrances which lead the eye, (and the feet soon follow) from one form into another, kids love them, adults are overcome by their curiosity and drawn in and through. Synapses snap the Imagination awake, and the beauty, texture and flow bring a sense of wellbeing.





Creating the Structure

To Patrick's plan, sixty narrow holes two feet deep, were dug in the sandy soil beside a large pond.
Groups of three coppiced birch, willow, hazel and sycamore poles (straight and with their upper branches still on) were placed in each hole, some of the poles were thirty feet tall. (Coppiced wood was used, as young trees are not so flexible and snap when bent) The poles were held in position and soil very firmly was tamped in around them.

Patrick and a volunteer then pulled branches into place with ropes and twine, loosely forming the "stone" shapes, and intended openings were identified.
Scaffolding went up, and from it, willow branches were tightly interlaced to create a single structural layer, and as the structure began to become firm, the tops of the poles were pulled over in a similar manner and worked in.
When this stage was completed it was hard to find room to reach a hand inside, and the ropes and twine could be removed without the bent poles launching one into space!

Onto the structural layer of willow was added another layer, which created a sense of flowing movement and beauty, by this stage someone inside could not be seen from outside.

Then a final layer was added, which gave the direction of flow the turbulence of a tornado, rooted the forms into the ground and gave muscle, sinew and a sense of life to each form, with particular emphasis on doorways and windows.


There was no movement in the base of the structure at all by the time the final layer went on, the forms have every chance of surviving Highland gales, and the tops are designed with practical as well as aesthetic shape to shed excess snow.

Each "stone" took about three days to complete, with three, four or even five volunteers and Patrick working from 8.30am to 5pm each day.

The building process sounds simple, and it is.
Patrick is a "hands on" architect building the dynamic forms to his plan with the help of the volunteers.


Building the sculpture to Patrick's plan is an addictive process for the volunteers, most work for the last possible minute until they have to leave and return to urgent projects, many stay longer than they planned, and even after that do just a wee bit more. Several volunteers took their rucksacks to work on their last day, so they could go direct to train or bus and work every possible minute!
Some leave having done their bit and turn up again next day with seceteurs (blunt!) in hand to squeeze in a spare hour or two...

A wonderful team of people to work with, connected by an enthusiastic desire of working with natural materials.


Will the Willow Sculpture Grow?

Some might, it depends how wet the summer is, a few may leaf and that can enhance the sculpture.
Generally the parts in the ground are way past the optimum size for easy rooting, and they were cut and out of water for a over a month.

If you want willow sculpture to become living willow, the willow needs to stay in water between cutting and planting, and then be put in the ground before the sap rises and the buds burst in mid-April, preferably also not much more than a inch in diameter and watered lavishly until well rooted.

The willow was originally grown for biomass, and is a variety which is not very flexible, so unsuitable for more traditional basketry purposes.


How long Will The Willow Sculpture Last?


Sculptures like this generally last out the wear and tear of a lot of visitors for a couple of years. They can last a bit longer if they are maintained.

In May 2007 there is a ceremonial burning of the sculpture planned, which is likely to be a tremendous sight reflected across the water.
Patrick and some of the volunteers are planning to return for the burning event which will be open to the public and include music and performance.



Visiting the Willow Sculpture

Daily, groups of schoolchildren came to explore the sculpture in progress, they were awed...WOW was a frequent reponse!
They also learnt about the natural materials around them, making rope from rushes, how to weave a willow wreath and other other ways to play with and explore woodland materials, and that they can, and often already do make willow sculpture, when making dens.

The public were welcomed to take the opportunity of meeting Patrick and seeing how the sculpture was made during the building process which was completed at the end of May 2006.

You will be able to visit the sculpture during 2007, it is at the Seaforth Highland Country Estate, Brahan, Dingwall, Ross-shire, Scotland. You can get there by using the A835 Ullapool - Inverness road looking on the left (from Ullapool) for a sign saying "Seaforth Highland country Estate". At the Estate follow the "Big Willow" signs.

The Big Willow event was organised by the Scottish Basketmaker's Circle, and is one of several, exploring the celebrating the meld of art and basketry craft. Another related event is the exciting "Pushing the Boundaries" exhibition which is touring Scotland this year.


Patrick Dougherty's web site                             Scottish Basketmaker's Circle web Site


There is a another connection between the Isle of Lewis where the Callanish Stones are, and the Brahan estate, which is that the seventeenth century Brahan Seer (who is famous for his many prophecies which have come true) was a Brahan estate worker and a Lewisman.




12 May, 2006

It was very strange to cross Achmore on the way home, not a stick in sight for miles!
Working on the sculpture was a fantastic experience, many thanks to all involved in organising the event.
Sizes are approximated.

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