Visual Arts

Branching Out

Give a kid couch cushions and a blanket and you'll inevitably see some masterful fort-building. What child can resist? Creating new spaces that offer protection, mystery and ample opportunity to flex the imagination is — and always was, for my part — too much fun to pass up.

So, the art installation by Patrick Dougherty at Desert Botanical Garden is very aptly named Childhood Dreams. Walking along the Harriet K. Maxwell Desert Wildflower Trail, you will encounter a cluster of rounded pod-like structures made from woven branches. They are large and can easily accommodate an adult. Stepping into the main entrance, I was enthralled — the spaces offered shade and a sense of privacy. Because of the loose, swirling weave of the branches, I could feel a breeze as the dappled sunlight made its way through the cracks. Each pod can be explored through a maze of doorways connecting the structures. This installation obviously took more time and effort than any fort I'd been in, but I felt the same magic as I did crawling through couch-cushion tunnels.

I visited the show with my two nieces, ages 5 and 7, and as I wandered through each pod, I started to get lost in my head — making up some crazy scenario. Maybe I was hiking through the desert, lost my way and stumbled across this curious shelter. If I had to stay the night, which pod would be the safest? What kind of bugs and animals would visit throughout the evening?

As I was living in my fantasy, the girls were going totally nuts. They skipped through their fantastic home made of branches, dodging through doorways and peering through windows. Excited and giggly, they assigned each room one by one — kitchen, bedroom, living room, and on. By the time we left, they had made dinner in the kitchen and served it to me in the dining room.

With our sense of whimsy jaded or lost, it's not often that adults can relive some of the magical sensations of childhood. Dougherty found a way to ignite the creative minds of kids and to coerce adults back to a place long forgotten — the imagination.

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Lilia Menconi
Contact: Lilia Menconi