Joseph Hopps says, with a bit of a twinkle in his eye, that the sky’s the limit when he makes his whimsical birdhouses that look as much like magical fairy homes as they do like havens for feathered friends.
No two of the sweet gum and cedar tree creations at Arbor Castle Birdhouses in Edom are ever alike, although most of them come with a variety of stairs, ladders, turrets, dormers, and, often, two-story entryways under copper or gourd roofs. The unique birdhouses – works of art – are as functional as they are collectable. Some folks are as likely to put them on kitchen countertops, fireplace mantels, or sunrooms as they are to put them on a porch or in a garden or the edge of the woods.
Joseph said the birds inspire his creativity.
"The homes express the whimsy of the birds themselves – their characters, their movements, create expressions of whimsy," he said. "You can make a birdhouse out of anything that has a cavity inside of it that a bird would live in, and the outside could be anything, left to your imagination. I try to design and build around that feeling."
Joseph’s birdhouses – including a special-order, custom-made, $900 "gnome home" – have been featured on the "Texas Country Reporter" TV show and at many arts & crafts festivals. In March, he was at the North Texas Irish Festival in Dallas and the Bayou City Art Festival in Houston. On April 14-15, he’ll be at The Woodlands Waterway Arts Festival, on April 19-22 at the Main Street Fort Worth Arts Festival, and on April 27-29 at Art in the Square at Southlake.
Why does he make birdhouses for a living?
"First of all, I just like watching birds, as a lot of people do. I studied building nesting boxes for them – what size of cavities and openings they need," he said. "Birdhouse building can be a very creative outlet. I’ve always been involved in creating something whether it’s painting or sculpting or whatever."
Music is another interest.
"I write songs and play guitar with my limited talent, which hasn’t stopped me from doing it. I learn as much as I can while I’m here. Whether you’ll need it later on, I don’t know," he said.
Joseph has been interested in the arts for as long as he can remember.
"I was always drawing or cutting or carving on something. I haven’t always been successful at it. I started with painting abstracts and thought maybe I could sell something but couldn’t find the market for it," he said. "I kinda held onto the belief that, no matter what, if it’s something you like you want to continue pursuing it. I enjoy the birdhouses which give me the opportunity for self expression – drawing, painting, and sculpting."
Joseph’s love of the arts is what drew him to Edom.
Born in Texas, he was living in Oklahoma when he came to Edom in 1999 for an open house art show and decided to stay.
"I met some artists from Edom at shows, and they told me a building was available. It was right up my alley," he said. "Edom is an arts community with people I can relate to, and have a place to live and a building to sell my work. It’s perfect for my needs."
Edom and East Texas are perfect for another reason, too.
"This is where the trees are – the kinds of trees I’m looking for – sweet gum and cedar, mostly. Sometimes pine," he said. "Medium soft woods are a little easier to work with, and the cedars are really durable and stand up well, too."
Every once in a while a "found" object finds its way onto a birdhouse.
"If I was on a beach in Galveston, I’d probably be looking more at the ground than I would the ocean," he said. "I must have a little bit of hobbit in me. I do find some objects and just look at things and see them: what’s weather done to it, what’s happened to it over the years. I just find it interesting."
Arbor Castle Birdhouses – which also sells birdseed and feeders, blown-glass hummingbird feeders, garden sculptures, gift items, and art (whatever strikes his fancy) – usually is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and sometimes on Sundays.
"Chances of me being here are pretty likely except for weekends I’m in shows," he said. "When I’m doing shows, I try to have somebody in the shop."
Joseph can "get lost" in the shop when he’s absorbed in the work.
"Absolutely," he said, laughing. "I might not even know what day it is. I listen to my radio and work. time sorta suspends."
The rest of the time?
"Well, I love a sunny day," he said. "I can’t stand to be inside for long on a day like today, so I’ll open the doors and windows and let the light stream through."
Or sit on the front porch for a while with a guitar, pickin’ and grinnin’ with whoever might come along. Lookin’ up at the sky from time to time and wishing he could fly.