When artist John James Audubon took his brush in hand to express himself, his goal was to capture the natural world as it really is, birds and other animals in anatomically correct poses, situated in their native settings.
When artist Alison Auth flexes her artistic muscles, the results are anything but realistic.
But they are whimsical and fun, reflecting a design style that resembles what a collaboration between film director Tim Burton and illustrator-author Dr. Seuss would look like. Especially if Burton and Seuss built bird houses.
Auth has been building residences for robins and townhomes for terns since 2006. It is, she says, a hobby born of her work in home restorations and rejuvenations, which put an endless supply of material at her fingertips.
"I have a long history of house renovation," Auth says. "Over the years, I have collected quite the trust of cool stuff. I also do a lot of alley shopping. Light fixtures are great; all those old tacky light fixtures that people pull out of houses are a great source. I take them all apart and they just have all kinds of cool stuff in them. My husband's family used to own a scrapyard and they collected spoons and forks for years. I think about 500 silver forks, spoons and knives that would come in through the door. I've got a nice stash of those."
Auth's imagination connected with the bits of downspouts and shingles she was handling every day, and she began putting them together in interesting ways. She doesn't call it recycling; she refers to it as upcycling, recasting items ordinarily headed for the dump as pieces of art. Her work eventually caught the eye of scenic designers in Hollywood, and she made a name for herself making unique props for movies, television and commercials. Screen credits include The Client, the 1994 thriller based on a John Grisham novel, and projects such creating space ships and even a talking green-bean can.
A bout of pneumonia forced her to scale down her creations. "I was really down for the count," Auth remembers. "And that's really when I started working smaller. I thought: Well, I don't have the energy to do the big renovations right now, but at least I can do little bird houses. I grew up on a wildlife sanctuary. So I've always been into and took care of wild animals. I've always had a very much passion for animals and birds."
The result, dubbed Birdtiques, are currently on display at the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove, in an exhibit that lasts until February 21.
Although a number of her creations never see a feathered friend move in (they end up as inside decorations), they are carefully built to accommodate birds. Auth ensures that her homes are as welcoming to their intended avian residents as possible: "A lot of bird houses out there, the holes aren't sized correctly; they don't have drainage holes; they don't have ventilation holes; they have perches that make it easy for predators to get in; their holes aren't at the right place; the box sizes aren't the right size. Birdtiques, on the other hand, are bird-specific."
The Birdtiques at the John James Audubon Center are not only for viewing, they can be purchased. "A lot of people buy them as little sculptures," Auth says.
The whimsical Birdtiques provide cozy shelter from the winter's chill. If you're looking for a similar haven to hole up in for a while, consider the options that are part of our Cabin Fever Reliever winter campaign. And if you have an especially good time, you can always tweet about it.