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Finding Minnesota: Whimsical Stick Sculpture Nearing Its End

COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. (WCCO) -- For more than two years, curious drivers in Stearns County have been pulling over to check out something that looks surreal: a dream-like sculpture made entirely of sticks.

Kids love to run through it and photographers can't get enough of it, but the so-called Stick House near St. John's University is nearing its end.

It consists of five small chapel-like structures clustered together along County Road 159, and it has stood strong through the blasts of summer storms and snowy winters since September 2012.

It was the vision of Patrick Dougherty, a sculptor who's done similar works around the world.

Tom Kroll is the Outdoor Director of the St. John's Abbey Arboretum, where the willow and ironwood branches were harvested.

He said Dougherty named this local sculpture "Lean On Me," because of the way the five sections rest on each other.

"They're meant to hold each other up," Kroll said, "but also symbolize this sense of community, that these little rooms and buildings, we're not all standing alone. We lean on each other and support each other."

It's also come to symbolize the circle of life. All the materials that sprang up in nearby fields are now starting to break down, and the entire sculpture will need to come down soon for safety reasons.

Associate art professor Rachel Melis was involved in the project from the start and will be sad to see it go.

"I personally had my engagement photos taken here," she said, "and I've taken pictures of my daughter here as she's grown up in the last year and a half."

Finding Minnesota St. John's Abbey Stick Sculpture
(credit: CBS)

Melis helped line up nearly 300 volunteers to harvest the sticks and put them in place over a three-week period.

"It was hard work," she said. "People were really into it and that's why they kept coming back, but it was really physically exhausting for everyone."

In the two-and-a half years since, the Stick House has attracted thousands of visitors.

Amanda Peterson and two friends drove up from Rochester, wearing "Cat In The Hat" costumes.

"Well I think it's very Seussical," Peterson said. "I think that it's just kind of fun and maybe 'Where The Wild Things Are.' And it's just beautiful."

It's because of photographers like Peterson that the Stick House is still standing past its original end date of September 2014. Explore Minnesota made it one of the checkpoints in its annual statewide photo Scavenger Hunt.

The contest ends March 5, and the university is likely to destroy the Stick House shortly afterward, either by machine or fire.

It will be a sad moment for many, but the sculpture was never supposed to last forever.

"Like anyone or thing that we love that we know that about, it's both beautiful and sad," Melis said.

Dougherty also created sculptures at Carleton College in 2002 and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in 2010.

Send us your Finding Minnesota ideas here.

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