Daring to daydream at ‘Stickwork’ in Salem

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2015/08/19/daring-to-daydream-at-stickwork-in-salem/

How long has it been since you allowed your imagination to branch out into an all-out daydream?

Maurice Sendak, throughout his lifetime of writing, theorized, “There is no such thing as fantasy unrelated to reality.

In the Caldecott Award-winning book “Where the Wild Things Are,” Sendak’s literary and artistry genius draws us into the life of Max.  This 1963 children’s classic follows a little boy’s dream into a world entwining his youthful rebelliousness and curiosity into a relatable adventure. Sendack’s storytelling symbolically transports readers to a safe, seaside forest of profound life explorations.

From his little corner of the world, Max visits universal feelings of cooperation, protection, and love. Using primitive imagery, this unassuming little book covers some grand psychological truths. Even when we think we’re alone, we’re in this together.

The same can be said for the installation of saplings which have magically branched out on a prominent corner in the heart of Salem, Massachusetts. This summer, an imaginative seaside forest invites people of all ages to explore one of 250 “Stickwork” creations designed by Patrick Dougherty. Over 30 years, the famous collections have been inspiring dreamers around the world to “max”-imize daydreams of their own.

Patrick Dougherty and "Stickwork." Courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum

Patrick Dougherty and “Stickwork.” Courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum

Dougherty, with a team of volunteer dream-weavers from around New England, gathered for three days in May to visually articulate stories that have been told before. Together, they designed an exhibit that freshly ties our internal dialogues to sculptures with an original bent for the Peabody-Essex Museum. Dougherty’s process is not only about building enormous organic sculptures but embedding a sense of community into each piece.

The heart of Sendak’s work touches the same emotional chords as Dougherty’s; no matter our age, where we live, what language we speak, we share the same universal desires to feel connected, protected, and loved.

Using six tons of locally harvested sticks as his medium, the man who speaks with a soft Carolinian drawl cuts across cultural and language barriers with his free-flowing imagination. Inexperienced worldwide weavers of wood, the eclectic group of “weavers,” like those selected in Salem, cooperatively, intuitively, build daydream-sized symbols of  “interconnectedness.”

Wherever this recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts is commissioned, enormous stick installations unexpectedly take shape. Previous venues include the Greater Reston Arts Center in Virginia, Texas A&M University, the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Hawaii, and Ville de Nantes, France.

Trevor Smith, curator of PEM’s contemporary collection “Present Tense,” said Dougherty’s ambition is to tap into a capacity for “wonder” as he works on huge temporary sculptures.

“His art shows us at once something marvelous that is familiar, yet irreducibly strange,” Smith said.

On a street corner, just outside PEM, hippies, businessmen, biker chicks, grannies and little children worked side by side with the artist, entwining thorn-less saplings into four, 22-foot, home-like structures. Dreams of the artist, the volunteers, and the community took shape when twigs and branches grew 12 feet across. Fantastically, the “sticks” continue to sprout fantasies within those who explore these interactive wild things day and night.

Passing through a busy intersection in old Salem, people now pause and stare at these fancifully bent towers. Little people cling to elders to peek out from “house windows and doors.” These newly imagined portals show familiar sights from a different perspective. People giggle and photograph each other inside the houses built with a real love of imagination, exploration, and community.

PEM invites you to play and dream in the seaside forest. These welcoming branches of reality and fantasy will be stretching out their visit until May 2017. It’s a real, free fun-for-all. No matter your age, bring your imagination to see where it takes you.

Courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum

Courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum

Diane Kilgore is a Boston-area blogger.

Also by Diane Kilgore:

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