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Not for the Birds

Tom Burke’s birdhouses are works of art.



If Delaware’s birds squabble over real estate, they’re probably squawking over little digs built by Wilmington craftsman Thomas Burke.
Burke’s birdhouses, mini versions of upscale homes and classic buildings in Delaware, are whimsical creations that cost anywhere from $500 to $8,500.

“The $8,500 one, I could get inside it,” says Burke. “And I’m 5-foot-10.”

Burke’s houses are not built to perfect scale—“these are birdhouses, after all,” he says—but they are certainly detailed.

Burke uses ¾-inch plywood for each structure. Exteriors are made from materials that best match the house he’ll replicate. Some have cedar shake roofs and turrets. Others are faced with stucco or painted to look like brick. Burke uses concrete to duplicate stone, then carves and paints mortar joints. He is an expert at matching color.

Burke loves the Brandywine Valley. He’s working on a series depicting the Karl Kuerner farmhouse, as well as Andrew and Betsy Wyeth’s mill house. The Delaware Art Museum owns two of his creations, one of its own building. The second, from Wyeth’s “Tenant Farmer,” part of a five-pice Wyeth collection, is on view in the museum store. Prospective buyers will have to negotiate the price with Burke, says museum store buyer Connie Cordeiro.

Burke doesn’t advertise. “People contact me,” he says. “I either drive by their home or place of business, or they send me pictures of their homes. A lot of times they’re presents, so I’ll sneak around the property a couple of times.”

He got caught once. “I had some explaining to do to a husband who wondered what I was doing there when his wife was home and he wasn’t.” But that’s the fun of it, Burke says.

The birds have a blast, too. “Martins love to live in condominiums and they’re the only species that will,” says Burke.

Don’t be surprised to see Burke hammering away on a Martha Stewart show one day. He’s trying to persuade the domestic goddess to buy his work. If she bites, Burke’s little mansion will be pricey. “Let’s just say it’ll be really good,” he says.

Contact Thomas Burke at 654-5550, or write to him at thomasfburke1401@aol.com.

 

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