“I’ll never look at a stick the same way.”

That is what executive director of Dunwoody Nature Center Alan Mothner overheard from one visitor to the art installation at the center. The exhibit, titled “Hoos in the Forest,” presents a series of creatures made out of organic materials, including sticks, by South Carolina-based artist, Salley McInerney.

Artist Salley McInerney leads workshop at Dunwoody Nature Center Oct. 15. (Photo Phil Mosier)

McInerney, 61, of Columbia, S.C., lives adjacent to a pond and wooded area. When she takes her retriever, Boo, on walks around the pond, he loves to swim. Rather than standing idly by, waiting for him, she started fidgeting around with fallen branches.

It wasn’t until two local boys stopped by, curious about what she was doing, that they said the creation looked like a dragon. From there, she started creating creatures in the woods, and the kids seemed to enjoy it. Word spread about her work.

“We chose Salley because we felt that the installation she did in South Carolina was a natural fit within our mission to inspire a love of nature,” Mothner said.

McInerney’s art blends seamlessly into the environment, almost turning the exhibit into a game of find-and-seek along the DNC’s various trails.

McInerney used materials from the DNC, as well as from pre-made pieces at her home, for her 24 creatures. She only had a week to put the installation together. All the materials are organic and natural, save for the creatures’ bottle cap eyes, which gives the art an environmental message of sustainability and new uses for found objects.

“For the children, it’s a way to show them that you can create something from nothing, from the woods [and] unexpected materials and have fun doing it,” McInerney said.

Harry, a creature made of pinestraw, is one of 20 pieces made by artist Salley McInerney using natural, found materials. (Photo Phil Mosier)

Each creature takes about two or three days, including gathering and assembling the materials. Her favorite piece is Harry, which was made from worn pine straw leading into the DNC. It also appeared to be a fan favorite, delighting the children and their imaginations.

McInerney encourages the kids to make their own creatures from nature, to get out into the woods and create on their own.

“Look around you, and you will find things to do and create,” she said. “Use your imagination and have fun.”

She spoke proudly of when Mothner sent her a photo of a boy who made his own tiny creature creation on a rock, influenced by the animals and the nature he had seen.

McInerney’s next project involves creating angels out of sticks cut by beavers.

In addition to creating art, McInerney is a writer for a paper based in Columbia and has published her own novel, “Journey Proud.” The installation with Dunwoody Nature Center marks the first time McInerney’s work has been featured in the Atlanta area.

View “Hoos in the Forest” at the Dunwoody Nature Center, 5343 Roberts Drive, through Nov. 20. Guests are encouraged to post their experiences on social media with the hashtag “Hoos in the Forest.” Contributors will be entered to win a two-year membership to the Dunwoody Nature Center.

–Jaclyn Turner