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The "Big Build" has begun.

Renowned environmental sculptor Patrick Dougherty this week is gathering raw materials and inspiration at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum for his newest creation: A giant and unique outdoor "stick" sculpture that he will assemble over the next three weeks during his "Big Build residency."

Through May 22, Dougherty and a group of volunteers will collect and weave together tree saplings and forest thinnings into a vision inspired by the Arboretum itself. Dougherty is expected to use about five truckloads of willow branches and tree samplings in the creation, according to the Arboretum.

The work-in-progress exhibit will take form on the center island in front of the Arboretum's visitor center, and can be monitored by webcam at www.arboretum.umn.edu/ bigbuild.aspx.

Dougherty himself -- an internationally known environmental artist responsible for more than 150 other builds at sites from Japan to Australia and around the United States -- will be working on-site from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except for this Saturday and Sunday.

The completion of the project will kick off the Arboretum's summer-long exhibition, "Powerhouse Plants," which opens June 5 and runs through Oct. 10.

Dougherty, who lives in Chapel Hill, N.C., will be accessible to the public during the build. "An Evening with Patrick Dougherty" is scheduled for 6:30-8 p.m. May 13 at the visitor center, when he will present a visual tour of other art installations he's created around the world and share his personal story about how he developed his art form.

Each of Dougherty's creations is unique. He relies on the local environment for his inspiration -- from the site and its plant life to the people of the area.

During his career, Dougherty's work has evolved from pedestal-scale sculptures to the large creations he now produces using truckloads of saplings.

Expecting Arboretum visitors to find inspiration in Dougherty's work, the Arboretum also is setting up a "Stickworks Studio" -- a drop-in open-air natural area where visitors will have access to some of the same raw materials Dougherty uses and will be able to create artworks of their own. Dougherty will be the special guest at the opening ceremony for "Stickworks Studio" on May 22.

"This shady spot will be well-stocked with willow branches, so we invite visitors of all ages inspired by Dougherty's work to stop by and create their own designs," Sandy Tanck, the Arboretum's manager of interpretation, said. The Stickworks Studio will remain open through Oct. 10, the Arboretum said.

"We're honored and excited to host this internationally known artist," said Mary Meyer, interim Arboretum director. "It will be interesting to watch the larger-than-life sculpture take shape."

STAFF REPORT

AN EVENING WITH PATRICK DOUGHERTY

When: 6:30-8 p.m. May 13

Where: Minnesota Landscape Arboretum visitor center, 3675 Arboretum Drive, Chanhassen

Admission: $10 for Arboretum members, $20 for nonmembers

To register: Go to www.arboretum.umn.edu and click on "Learn pages."

Ongoing: Dougherty also will be on-site 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. daily through May 21, except for this Saturday and Sunday.

Webcam: To see progress on the "Big Build," go to the Arboretum's website.

More info: For more on Dougherty's work, go to www.stickwork.net.