On Monday morning I visited what looked like a huge, elaborate fort on the campus of Utah State University. The structure is constructed of thin willow branches woven together in a flowing pattern. Volunteers were just starting to arrive to continue building.
Artist Patrick Dougherty designs and creates these large structures all over the world.
“I’ve been working a long time," he said. "I started in the early 80s and have been making work since then. I’ve made around 300 big structural pieces around the world and I’ve been really lucky to work almost everywhere in the United States.
“I always use natural materials in my work. I use some kind of saplings, and the structures typically take three weeks to build and they last about two years. It has a feeling of the natural world and some experiences you might have had out there.”
The willow that Dougherty used for this piece came from New York State.
“It came from Niagra Falls area, right on Lake Erie," he said. "They raise a lot of grapes and they raise a lot of willow.”
The transfer of wood products into Utah, especially large quantities of untreated wood like the willow that Dougherty uses, is regulated by the state. The wood is inspected before it is allowed to leave New York and enter Utah.
“Well, I think that they just inspect it for bugs, you know, because all the material is dead,” he said.
Inspectors monitor wood products for serious insect pests, including emerald ash borrers, gypsy moths, pine shoot beetles and imported fire ants. This type of inspection is a crucial step in acquiring materials for Dougherty’s designs.
He will complete 10 installations in 2018, including one on the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo.