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Brainiac

The stick-fort artist

Thomas O’Laughlin

“I always say, when I grab a stick, I get a bunch of good ideas.” That is how Patrick Dougherty of Chapel Hill, N.C., explains the hundreds of dwelling-size stick sculptures he’s created over the last 20 years. Dougherty is the subject of a new documentary, “Bending Sticks,” currently screening in cities around the country (the nearest screening to Boston is in New York on Oct. 19). As he explained in an interview last year, it takes him about three weeks to choose a site, collect nearby saplings, and build each of his folkloric constructions, often with the help of local volunteers. Dougherty’s sculptures are enchanting and striking as art, but still, it’s impossible not to think about them the way you would have as a child: How cool would it be to build that!

The Kermit-cash cycle

Jim Henson is a hard person to place:a hippie artist who, in creating the Muppets, became the mogul behind one of the biggest juggernauts in the children’s entertainment economy. Author Elizabeth Hyde Stevens, who lives in Somerville, has been interested in the tension between commercial success and artistic integrity in Henson’s life for a while. She’s taught a course at Boston University called “Muppets, Mickey, and Money,” and now has a new e-book that attempts to distill Henson’s career into useful principles for creative people.

Make Art Make Money: Lessons from Jim Henson on Fueling Your Creative Career,” which is being published as a Kindle serial, argues that Henson was able to preserve his artist’s spirit even while negotiating TV deals with HBO because he didn’t see any intrinsic tension between the marketplace and creativity. Maria Popova recently wrote about the book on her Brain Pickings blog and highlighted a key section explaining how Henson thought of commercial success and art as a kind of three-step dance:

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  Make art.

 Make art make money.

 Make money make art.

It is the last step that turns this dance into a waltz—something cyclical, so that the money is not the real end.

Kevin Hartnett is a writer in South Carolina. He can be reached at kshartnett18@gmail.com.
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