An Auction of Architecture for the Birds

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'Sunflower Cucurbit,' a birdhouse designed by artist Marcia Previti.

To be a hero, all Harvey Bernstein needed was an umbrella.

It was a particularly stormy day in Sagaponack when the Pratt Institute professor ran outside in the pouring rain, focused on one of his garden trees and the blue jay nest tucked within its branches — its eggs on the verge of hatching.

“I put the umbrella over the top of it, way up high, so that the birds wouldn’t get wet,” he said. “And my wife said to me, ‘Well, it’s sort of like a bird-day gift for the babies,’ and that inspired me.”

Accidentally crafted in his likeness, the designer shaped the figure of a man holding a birdhouse out of garden wire — “I’m bald and have big eyes so, yeah, I guess it kind of looks like me,” he said, “but I’d rather look like Gregory Peck” — and called it “A Birdday Present,” now available as part of the second annual “Art and Nature Take Flight” birdhouse auction at Bridge Gardens in Bridgehampton.

As of last week, the 32 birdhouses constructed by 29 local artists were still trickling into the Peconic Land Trust office, according to Kathy Kennedy, senior outreach manager.

A birdhouse designed by Lisa Rose. Courtesy photo

“When we get somebody stopping by with one, we’re like, ‘Oh my God, look what you did!’” she said. “It’s so fun to see how creative people are and what inspires them and what they come up with. No two are alike.”

With zero rules to follow, each artist has complete creative freedom, using a medium that feels familiar to them — such as ceramics or sculpture, even blown glass — to more foreign objects, including shells and dried gourds.

“They can either decorate a pre-made birdhouse we provide them, or they can create something of their own design from found materials or whatever they really want to do,” Kennedy said. “This year, more people decided to do their own thing, which is really fun.”

East Hampton-based artist Marcia Previti said she never entertained the idea of using the provided birdhouse — “It was too static and clunky, not graceful,” she said — and chose a dried gourd instead, which she decorated with a ring of blown glass sourced from old light bulbs.

But when considering the result, Previti said she isn’t sure her original creation will attract feathery friends, or scare them away.

A design by Caroline Cassa.

“Whether birds will actually come and use it, I don’t know. If they did that, it would be lots of fun,” she said. “I hope, at the very least, the person who buys it will enjoy it. I hope they see it as a piece of sculpture that will enhance either their shelf or they can hang it outside. I don’t know how long it will last outside. I hope they just enjoy it as an enhancement to their lives.”

The birds who call Bernstein’s backyard home add exponential value to his life, he said, and he finds himself positively tickled when a new feathered friend takes up residence in one of his five birdhouses.

“I think in my last life, I must have been a bird — or maybe if I’m lucky, in my next life,” he said. “If I see birds go by, I tend to stop and look at them. A friend of mine recently was kind of depressed, and I said, ‘Listen, the next time a bird looks at you, look back at it.’ There’s a kind of spirituality with birds. I do have a thing about birds, and birdhouses. They’re a gift. You’re actually giving a gift to the bird in a sense, if you do it right.”

Bidding for the second annual “Art and Nature Take Flight” birdhouse auction is now open and will continue through Saturday, August 17, at Bridge Gardens, located at 36 Mitchell Lane in Bridgehampton. A closing event will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. For more information, call (631) 283-3195 or visit peconiclandtrust.org.

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