One Fell Swoop at Denver Botanic Gardens

One Fell Swoop is an immersive maze-like experience. Photo: Aman Tewolde · The Sentry

One Fell Swoop is an immersive maze-like experience.
Photo: Aman Tewolde · The Sentry

One Fell Swoop showcases another inspiring vision of artist Patrick Dougherty at the Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield Farms. Nestled along the tranquil Deer Creek, this immersive labyrinth of intricately woven willow branches feels connected to the surrounding landscape. Dougherty refers to these otherworldly structures as stickworks.  

Dougherty is no stranger to Colorado, having installed several works in Aspen since the early 1990s, another exhibition at the Museum of Outdoor Arts in 2008, and a recent stickwork structure at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail. In recent years, Dougherty has kept exceptionally busy. Just last month he completed another sculpture for the US Botanic Garden in Washington D.C.

According to the website for the Denver Botanic Gardens, much of the material used to build One Fell Swoop originates from willow saplings grown and harvested on Chatfield Farms and other locations in Colorado. By using plants that grow naturally in the surrounding terrain, it feels just as much a part of the landscape as the trees themselves. 

In late October, a few early snowstorms blanketed the prairie with shimmering white snow, clumping around the top edges of the structure. At first glance, the twisting twigs seem a dull brown. However, against the blank white of snow, various shades of red and yellow in every different willow branch become more apparent.  

From the outside, One Fell Swoop has many portals to enter and exit. After passing under the arches, the interior walls narrow, and the structure becomes like a maze. With these curving halls and interconnected spaces, the inside appears even bigger than the outside. Rounded windows of various sizes open the experience to infinite views, looking outside as well as into other sections. 

Deeper inside, the passages lead to several round rooms with openings in the ceiling like windows in a cathedral. In a way, Dougherty’s creations are more than just immersive sculptures—they are like churches to nature.  

Despite having made hundreds of stickwork installations, Dougherty keeps it fresh by exploring the endless possibilities of this unique medium. 

One Fell Swoop also represents a wider realm of environmental art. Colorado has been a prime location for environmental art, with its spectacular scenery and complicated history. For decades, notorious artists Christo and Jean-Claude tried and failed to realize their vision Over the River in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Another notable work is the Breckenridge Troll, “Isak Heartstone,” created last year by Danish artist Thomas Dambo.  

Despite being a bundle of twigs, the massive scale and imaginative design of One Fell Swoop draws people into a more harmonious relationship with nature. Its playful atmosphere and tight spaces seem fit for kids as well as bringing out the inner kid in everyone. It also resembles the structures made from branches in the 2009 film Where the Wild Things Are, instantly conjuring that association of fantasy. Denver is fortunate to have the work of Dougherty, and Chatfield Farms serves as the perfect setting.

One Fell Swoop is included with admission and will be on display at the Denver Botanic Gardens Chatfield Farms until Dec. 30. 

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