What’s In A Name?

Mini Intro: This page was posted on 1 April 2013…

I had recently created an account on the new social website, Facebook. I had no interest in it at all, but Facebook was new and everyone was on it. Eventually, the talk of everyone re-connecting, I relented. I had gone through an unfortunate situation at work the week I wrote this posting below online. I closed my Facebook account a few weeks after posting it. Today, five years later, I reopened my Facebook account. It’s ironic, of course. Why I had to take the post offline is why I need to put it back on for US.

Below is the original Post on Facebook written by Gary in November 2008…


November 8, 2008: I have been so lucky to reconnect with old friends from high school this week. One friend, whom I was very close with l, I heard was in possession of a birdhouse I made years back. How she came to be was strange enough, but the birdhouse was not something I thought of since 2006. We just reconnected last week, right before a rough time at work. But it was the fact the she had the birdhouse I made that really hit me today. Finally, some positive past to think about instead… so here goes…

Back in 2004, I was asked to paint a birdhouse version of the Elephant Hotel.  The Historical Society (run by one of my favorite parents) asked town artists and myself, as the art teacher of one of the town’s schools and former resident, if I would participate in the event. It would be marking the dedication of the hotel as a National Historic Landmark. I was honored, and of course, I agreed.

I brought it home, and on the counter it sat; a simple wooden version of the building that represented the town. For a week, I looked at it a few times a day as if it was going to tell me what the hell it wanted to be wearing. “Oh man, what the hell am I gonna do with this thing!?” Painting on that type of ‘canvas’ was not my style at all. I love folk art, its one of my favorite styles, but because I admire those who can do it. I had never done anything like this before, but knowing it was going to be displayed with other town artists, none of whom I knew, there was a bit of an ‘artistic pressure.’ “Should I make it historical? How about a landscape wrapped all around it?”. Finally one afternoon, “Oh, I’ll make it in the style of Mondrian!” I figured he was a safe bet. It would be easy to do, simple colors, and solved the issue of it being a box given his most famous style. Big relief, I’d paint over the weekend (I know, not everyone knows who he is, so simply put…The Partridge Family Bus).

Friday at work, I was told a guest speaker that the high school student council arranged had been cancelled. A parent made an issue of the fact that the school was promoting homosexuality and she did not want her tax dollars supporting it, etc. I was furious inside, not only that the school bowed down to her, but more so that no one in town, such as the high school PTA, stepped in and paid for it instead. The students had tried to do this and no one helped them. But while I was furious, I was far from surprised or shocked. I just shook my head at my colleague when she told me and went about my day. Thing was, I knew the parent who was responsible for getting the event cancelled very well. Not only had I taught her two children, but they attended my summer art program; a couple weeks each year, for a few summers. Sadly, I was not surprised at all by her stance of making an issue of the Gay speaker. I knew what kind of person she was inside. Her children, luckily, had not become miniature versions of herself (or not at least when I taught them).

I went home that night, fed my dogs, and sat down to paint the birdhouse. As I looked at it, trying to decide where to draw the lines for the geometric shapes and I was really starting to feel the pressure of it being displayed alongside others. The chimneys and front stoop were becoming a design issue and I was getting frustrated over how it would all turn out. The ‘artistic pressure’ I placed on myself was building. “Damn birdhouse!” I thought. Suddenly, my Mondrian idea vanished.

I got out the yellow and blue I would need, and knowing I did not want it perfect, quickly painted the blue all over it. I started the yellow stripes pattern, not caring about them being aligned or neat, but making their placement a pattern. The design and colors were clear enough for anyone who knew, or whom I decided to tell, to be able to see it. Pink chimneys would make the ultimate hideous statement yet definitely draw attention to themselves; standing above it all. Bright yellow windows to make sure they were on the shocking side and so the signs in them later on would be seen. I knew exactly what they would say; after all, this was a miniature version of a hotel. “No” had to be larger than the “vacancy” on one window. But the right side was most important. “NO BIRDS”, I laid out in all capital letters with the brush. Following it was “at ”, which could be small because it wasn’t what I wanted seen from a distance. However I had to be sure “ALL” was the same as the “BIRDS” above it.

I sat back and looked at how disgusting it all was. My favorite building in my hometown was represented by this bright, hideous, poorly painted representation of the hotel that stands proudly in the town center. The first piece of art I would have publicly displayed in town, was just, simply put, ugly. And I smiled as I looked at it, not caring about it being compared to the others it would be displayed with. I imagined what the people would be thinking as they glanced up on it; hearing them…“What is this?”, “Oh I get it, it’s a birdhouse that says no birds allowed”, “Not exactly a talented artist I suppose”, “It’s so bright it doesn’t belong with the others.” But it would be with the others and I was very proud of it. For it was exactly what I wanted it to be, a statement about Somers, it’s history, but most all, a record of what happened to students tin town.

I don’t think the Human Rights Campaign would be upset that I used their blue and yellow “Equal” logo to cover the hotel. I knew the pink chimneys would have made a better statement if I had been able to cut the tops down into a triangular shape, but we weren’t supposed to change the structure. But it didn’t matter, because most of all, I was able to say something to someone in town. She hurt the town’s reputation a bit that week, definitely had hurt some Gay students, maybe just a handful, but she accomplished it. And now I had just accomplished saying something to her, by making sure the signs in the window read clearly, “NO BIRDS at ALL!”.

I wonder, did Mrs. Birdsall ever see the exhibit?

I never went and saw the exhibit of the birdhouses. I asked that my name not be used, only my initials, at both the display and on the commemorative poster made. I knew I had done something I had every right to do, make an artistic statement. However, I figured since I was representing the school, maybe it was best I keep a low profile should someone recognize the HRC logo and deciphered it. Slim chance, but most of all, the students have a right to privacy of it being done for them.

The commemorative poster is in a few places around town. My parents have the one I was given and I told them what it really meant. I see the poster in local businesses every now and then, and each time I look at it, I see my birdhouse. Standing out from all the others, different, yet the same form. It’s there, but you really have to look hard to see that it’s any different. It’s meaning known to myself and only those I had trusted with it’s secret.

I am glad that this week I was finally able to share with an old friend, who I just reconnected with, why the birdhouse she has, is so ugly. She could only talk of how much her daughter loves it and has it on a shelf in her bedroom. That really made me feel good, and so happy to hear…that kid’s don’t see what we do: the ugly.


The Ugly Birdhouse: Source of the Name

Yes we know. The chimney’s look red, not pink. They are pink. All we have of the original is some old photographs (pre-digital, no less!). It is also difficult to see the “at all”. It was written that small. I wanted people to have to take a closer look at what was being said. I still wonder if anyone ever did get what I was trying to say then, and I suppose, even now.
– Gary
1 April 2013


Comments? Thoughts?