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Beguiling birdhouses: Project Return 'stroll' showcases high-flying artistry

Updated 5:31 pm, Friday, March 9, 2012

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  • Theresa Roth, the conceptual artist behind a giant "birdhouse," really a children's playhouse, stands next to the creation Thursday during Project Return's 17th annual Birdhouse Stroll. The birdhouse playhouse is 11 1/2 feet tall and features several doors, a peek hole and an interior ladder to a balcony. Photo: Meg Barone / Westport News freelance
    Theresa Roth, the conceptual artist behind a giant "birdhouse," really a children's playhouse, stands next to the creation Thursday during Project Return's 17th annual Birdhouse Stroll. The birdhouse playhouse is 11 1/2 feet tall and features several doors, a peek hole and an interior ladder to a balcony. Photo: Meg Barone

 

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If birds could tweet, electronically that is, they would be aflutter on Twitter, chirping about their new, upscale digs in Westport.

Their soon-to-be elegant, whimsical and creative domiciles will populate backyards in Fairfield County and beyond shortly after Project Return's 17th annual Birdhouse Auction on March 23 at the Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton.

The birds and the public got their first peek at the unique birdhouses Thursday night during the 10th annual Birdhouse Stroll in downtown Westport, where more than 160 artistic residences for feathered friends and other bird-related art will remain on display in storefronts along Main Street, Post Road East, Taylor Place, and Playhouse Square through March 22.

"It's a way to give back to a needy group of girls through art," said Jessica Jamner of Weston, who created a piece for the display and auction titled "Sex Education ... the birds and the bees."

Proceeds from the auction benefit Project Return, the Westport nonprofit organization that operates a group home and support programs for adolescent girls and young women in crisis. Currently in its 25th year, Project Return is a seven-bed facility with a staff that tackles crisis intervention and conflict resolution, takes residents to appointments, facilitates group meetings, helps with homework, and creates a home life space. The auction is its biggest annual fundraiser.

"I like supporting young women and girls, particularly in this current political climate," said Connie Nichols of New Canaan, who created a piece for the auction.

"It's a really nice community effort. Everybody looks forward to it every year. The diversity of styles of birdhouses makes it that much more fun," said Laura Sergiovanni, store manager at L'Occitane en Provence on Main Street, which has two birdhouses in its display window that caught the eye of Elana Lundbye, 8, of Westport, who wore a feather in her hair.

"I like them because I like the birds sitting on the birdhouses and I like the colors," Elana said.

Hundreds of people strolled through Downtown for a preview of the birdhouses, which were crafted from a wide variety of materials and took inspiration from a wide array of objects, shapes and themes.

For Heidi Fontneau of Monroe the Birdhouse Stroll was emotional yet heart-warming. Her daughter Katherine "Katie" Fontneau, who worked at Project Return, was killed in a July 2010 car accident. She was 23.

"Project Return is a very special place. It is amazing to me. Even to think of a birdhouse to encompass the vision of Project Return. The girls flock there and then they fly away when their wings are stronger. It's such a poetic way to describe the girls and the way the house works," Fontneau said.

Award-winning artist Miggs Burroughs, a long-time contributor to Project Return's Birdhouse Auction, and a handful of others, led guided tours of the storefronts offering information about the artists and their creations.

"It's a wonderful event. We marvel every year at the scope and talent and the originality of the artists," said Joyce Mueller of Weston.

"You'd think it would play out," said Ted Mueller, Joyce's husband. "But it doesn't," she added.

This year's work includes a gourd-like stoneware birdhouse made by Simon Doonan, former creative director at Barneys New York, and signed by the interior designer Jonathan Adler; "Rockin' Robin," a retro jukebox made entirely of vintage 45 records by Westport's Lou Rolla; Dick and Marilee Reilly of Norwalk created "Canned Ham," a mobile home-like birdhouse with two nesting compartments made specifically for Purple Martins.

Karen Ford of Westport was inspired by the eastern galleries of art from Iran, Iraq and Turkey at the Met in making her "Eastern Eden" birdhouse, which is on display in the window of Max's Art Supplies on Post Road East. "I was influenced by the tile work, the Persian carpets. I melted recycled bottle glass on top of porcelain to get the color and texture effects," Ford said.

Marcella Moeller, store manager of Calypso, said the store owners don't get to select which birdhouses are displayed at their businesses but she thinks the Project Return birdhouse committee does a spectacular job in pairing them. "They did a good job. Ours are Calypso-esque," Moeller said of the two that are displayed at the store entrance. One is covered in oyster shells. The other is a beach bungalow titled "Westport Birds Bling Birdhouse" made by Pamela Kesselman of Westport.

"Bike Birdhouse #6," crafted almost entirely from shiny chrome bike parts by Lew Shaffer of Ridgefield, is fittingly on display at Nike on Main Street. Katherine and Eileen Flug's "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle ... Return" is covered in can tops and sits in the window of Liquor Locker.

A "birdhouse" suitable for Sesame Street's Big Bird sits in front of Spruce Home and Garden at 90 Post Road East, which hosted the opening reception Thursday. The brightly colored 11 ½-foot, 1,000-pound structure is actually a children's playhouse that was conceptualized by Project Return volunteer Theresa Roth, designed by Rick Benson, a builder of luxury homes in Westport, and constructed by a team of volunteers.

Kathy Brunjes, a member of the Project Return board of directors, said people will observe that artists have taken their work beyond birdhouses this year.

Wendy Nylen, owner of Picture This in Westport, which features birdhouse art work, said she was glad to see the artistic offerings were not just limited to birdhouses. "There's a lot more two-dimensional art this year. It makes sense. It'll be easier for people to incorporate into their homes. They'll be a popular offering," Nylen said of the framed bird art and jewelry.

"I don't want to dismiss the wonderful birdhouses, but it's nice to have that option," she said.

Westport artist Liz Beeby created a bright red hat-shaped birdhouse decorated with butterflies called "Chapeau Oiseau," which sits in the window of BCBG Max Azria on Main Street. Beeby's wearable art is "not for the birdbrain or the meek of the flock."

"I'm a native Westporter and one of my best friends lived in the Project Return house. I think it's a wonderful cause, and this event is a wonderful, whimsical thing. The different ideas that come into their heads are amazing," Beeby said.

Tickets to the 17th annual Birdhouse Auction on March 23 at Rolling Hills Country Club are $125 until March 14 and $150 thereafter. For more information, visit www.projectreturnct.org or call 203- 291-6402.