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Making Good Homes …. for Birds

Vermont HomeFor the past seven days, I’ve been at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont. I’m here with 60 other Vermont artists and writers, all reflecting on a week of calm and stimulation while we each attempted to create things of beauty and elegantly craft written words shaped into poems, novels and essays. We’ve been situated in separate studio spaces, wood and metal shops, clay studios and writing cubicles arranged along the Gihon River. The week is a gift and one that’s been in place for now 30 years. The center does this once a year and it’s called Vermont Week.

It’s a fine time that we spend here. There are artists and writers of all kinds; young, old and in between … polished writers and those just beginning a personal work or memoir. People who sell their work and those, who like myself, still have a day job. They feed you three very good meals daily with great food served in the old mill renovated as the heart of the Center. The cost for the week is heavily endowed and we pay but $200.00 combined with 4 hours of dishwashing or some like task. Every evening we gather after dinner at the meeting house/town theater on Main Street and listen to the resident artists and authors describe/show and/or read their work. There are serious artists and writers here and to hear them read and show their work is both entertaining, moving and very inspiring. The poetry, the essays and the book segments are often emotional and draw you in. The artwork is at times provocative and beautiful; self-effacement and irony riddle what you see and hear. It’s one of those cherished experiences a creative person seeks out and hopes to find. We found it here at the Vermont Studio Center.

So I’m here as an artistic pretender …. To make birdhouses. I too have a plain white studio room … 20×14 in dimension and much more suited to large works of art and sculpture than my diminutive birdhouses. I make bird lanterns and actual birdhouses intended to be hung on outside walls and tree trunks. But yes, I do pretend a mite … the birds of Vermont would consider my houses a tinge upscale and they no doubt could make do with more basic accommodation.

The houses I make extend a career long interest in architectural model making. With precision and craft and usually made of wood or cardboard, physical architectural models are rapidly being displaced by computer renderings and virtual tours. Now though, with some irony, the 3D printing era seems upon us and I would venture that the physical model will make a comeback, albeit with a different set of tools rather than by actual hand. Not sure how that sits with me.

But all this is mere background to what I am doing here in Johnson. I began this birdhouse gig several years ago as part of a fundraiser for the King Street Center in Burlington. The entire office designed and fabricated birdhouses sold at silent auction. There were apartment birdhouses, church birdhouses, sleek modern birdhouses … a varied and stimulating lot …. And they sold like hotcakes in support of a great cause.

So for a week I’ve been building more and I’m now reflecting on the half dozen “houses” that I’ve made for the birds in the time here. Beyond the craft and exactitude brought to this I realize also that it’s a fresh metaphor for the making of better places to live for all living things. That sounds grandiose, but that’s what I do, make good homes, make good places to work and learn and this birdhouse business is really just more of that. The birdhouses are most often made of cedar, pre-used cedar in most cases, clapboard from an old house or wonderful aged cedar from a chair that a west wind destroyed. And while there is humor in the different bird houses, there is also a very serious vein that has to do with quality, craftsmanship and the continuing need for good places to live and gather together … whether it’s for birds or humans the idea and the need is the same.

So see what I’ve been up to …. I may go over to the Audubon Center in Huntington and learn a little more about what the birds really need. Let me know what you think now that you’re fully aware of my leanings.

Rolf Kielman at the Vermont Studio Center, Johnson Vermont on May 4, 2014