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Snake Hollow by Patrick Dougherty, April 2012 – November 2013

Snake Hollow

Every passerby fell under Snake Hollow’s spell. Whether it is through the enchanting doorways and windows that beckon the viewer to enter, the maze-like shape and form, or its rudimentary building material, namely willow saplings; the sculpture encouraged one to explore it in an actual physical way by walking in and out and around it. Kids played in it and at times you could hear their little voices laughing but you may lose track of them, momentarily. There were plenty of passages and openings that encouraged such interaction.

Sculptor Patrick Dougherty created this site-specific sculpture to naturally relate to and play off its surroundings at Bernheim. It is made of an environmentally friendly material, willow, and the piece was eventually recycled back to the earth.  Nestled in to the meadow beside the Visitor Center, its shape was loosely based on two serpent/snake forms. Their heads were actually 5’ high huts standing side by side facing opposite directions in the center of the piece, each with its coiling tail creating a spiral form with undulating walls and passageways. The artist suggested loose associative references to serpent myths and petroglyphs in ancient cultures. The directional movement is created by its form and underscored by placing the sticks, in swirling and rolling lines similar to the drawn marks on a page. From certain vantage points the piece seemed to slither.

Snake Hollow was also designed to be a labyrinth or maze. It was created to have a series of meandering paths both within the bodies of the snake forms and the corridors that surround them. It is the first maze-like configuration that Patrick Dougherty challenged himself to make and one his largest pieces to date.

Patrick Dougherty arrivesd at his previously determined site with an idea in his head and a modest little sketch. He sized up the amount of collected materials and the organizational capabilities and went to work. He has developed a series of techniques for creating the structure, the body and the surface of his work that he shares and teaches to his mostly volunteer work force. He is good at directing their energy and matching skill sets with the various tasks at hand. He says things like  “try this approach” or “come work on this part for a while.”  There were moments of absolute harmony between the volunteers and the piece as they worked, gathered materials, problem solved, and wove.  Fifty four volunteers, one fulltime assistant and the artist worked on this piece over the course of seventeen days. Bernheim staff cut, gathered and delivered willow saplings, a renewable resource, by the dump truck, until the last twig was threaded in to place.


Snake Hollow, April, 2012

Snake Hollow, April, 2012

There is immediacy to the use of this natural material to which everyone can relate. It is a primal one that is embedded in memory, a primitive building material for both animal and humans.  There is a sense of nature’s seamless forces at work.  From simply being saplings found in the landscape to becoming a windswept architectural form, these sticks are transformed in to a sweeping organic structure.


The process starts with mapping out the form on the ground with rope. Then holes are dug every three feet along that line. Each hole is 2’6” deep and in this case of Snake Hollow, 141 holes were dug. 423 upright wrist-thick saplings were tamped in and then bent and manipulated in to undulating walls, ceilings, doorways and windows. It was approximately 846 running feet long and took over 800 hours to construct.


The artist was born in Oklahoma, but grew up in North Carolina, where he roamed the woods as a child.  As an adult, he combined his carpentry skills with his love of nature and began to learn about primitive techniques of building and to experiment with tree saplings as construction material.  Beginning about 1980 with small works, fashioned in his backyard, he quickly moved from single pieces on conventional pedestals to monumental site-specific installations that require sticks by the truckload. To date he has built over two hundred such impressive sculptures all over the world.


Snake Hollow is part of Bernheim’s visual arts program, Sited@Bernheim, which presents site specific art works on a timely basis. This sculpture was used as a source of school curriculum, entitled Weaving Science and Art through Nature as well as for other programs and opportunities that will arise of the course its 2 year life cycle.

Stickworks is available for sale at the Visitor Center.


Snake Hollow during ColorFest