Community Papers

Chilliwack birdhouses channel the psychadelic '60s

Bryan Thompson, an aircraft welder by trade, started creating psychedelic birdhouses first as a way to appease his son, and now to release his creative energy. - JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS
Bryan Thompson, an aircraft welder by trade, started creating psychedelic birdhouses first as a way to appease his son, and now to release his creative energy.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS

Upon first meeting Bryan Thompson, you might seriously question whether he's left the 1970s.

His grey hair is a scruffy shag upon his head; his dark sunglasses perched low on his nose; and his voice, a fast-paced, yet melodic drawl.

When you see his commune of birdhouses, hanging from his trees, the hooks on his house, and sitting on the grass, you'll have your answer.

All a psychedelic mash of colour, they put Thompson right in the thick of Hippieland.

"Some of my paint is just so extreme," he said. "The crazier it looks, the better."

Thompson, an aircraft welder by trade, built his first birdhouse more than 30 years ago for his young son. He didn't think it would be difficult; he worked with heavy duty tools every day. But the wood was too thin and the nails too heavy. The ball-peen hammer and the hacksaw were more suited to metal than wood.

"It was horrible, it looked disgusting, like junk," he said scrunching up his nose. "Every nail I put in came out the other side – I wanted to burn it."

His second attempt was better. He acquired thicker wood, smaller nails, proper tools. By his third and fourth, people started noticing.

It started out as a hobby, something to do when he had spare time. But with working full-time and his parental responsibilities, there wasn't much time. Soon, the birdhouses were a faint memory.

Decades passed.

Thompson grew weary of being under the confines of a dark welder's helmet for hours. He needed a brighter outlet for his creative energy.

"I didn't want to go under the helmet anymore – life was too dark," he said.

And so began his re-energized love for birdhouse making.

In the divided garage of his Greendale home, sits a table saw, a ventilated spray booth, stencils, stacks of donated, "scrap" wood, and a separated room full of paints, brushes, and birdhouse sketches lining the walls.

These are not your typical four walls and a roof birdhouses, every inch of them is filled with character. They twist, they bend, they curve, some have aerodynamics, most have pieces of the buyer within the design, all have bursts of colour.

The houses, which attract anything from wrens to sparrows to chickadees, even doves have tried squeezing through the small windows, are akin to something you'd see coming out of Dr. Seuss or Tim Burton.

"I like to do just strange, weird things," Thompson said. "There are no mistakes; it is what it is. Every twist and bend is meant to be. When my brush starts going, I let it go."

Thompson's skills come naturally. His father was a hobby carpenter, known for the beautiful pieces he'd build in a room that could never leave the room.

They were always too big; you couldn't get them out, Thompson laughed.

His mother was an interior designer, who taught Thompson everything he knows about mixing paint.

Each house has an undercoat that is sanded, three overcoats that are sanded between each coat, a layer of art, and then a clear coat on top.

"I know paints," said Thompson, who, true to hippie roots, spent the '70s creating "black light" masterpieces for friends.

"My birdhouses don't rot."

For Thompson, the birdhouses are more than just a creative outlet, they're therapy.

After suffering two strokes, the 65-year-old was forced to slow his life down.

"When I'm cutting [the wood], it's like I almost get lost," he said. "I'm kind of in another land, it almost swallows you."

Bryan's Birdhouses is located at 6155 Blackburn Road. For more information, call 604-490-7792.

kbartel@theprogress.com

twitter.com/schoolscribe33

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