HOFFMAN BIRDHOUSES AND GARDEN ORNAMENTS GO GREEN
Virgil and Darlene Hoffman make many extraordinary birdhouses of antique barn wood. Nestle them among stones near a garden fountain or hang them in a tree. Buy one mounted on what they call spindles that push easily into the ground and birds are sure to flock to it.
Darlene Hoffman says her husband, Virgil, has endless designs in his head that have kept them busy gathering antique wood and creating birdhouses and other functional things to carry history into the next century. They believe the quality that preserved the wood in its original structures assures a long life for a new generation of outdoor antiques.
If not for a recession in 1974 when the lumber mills closed and Virgil lost his job, his creativity might have remained untapped. The couple lived in Eugene, Oregon, at the time Virgil and hundreds of other mill workers got their notice. It was a shock no one expected. Everyone in their neighborhood worked in the lumber industry.
Rather than stay on the West Coast where everyone was looking for a job, we decided to come back to Indiana where I grew up, Darlene says. We started driving around some of the small towns near Chicago and we saw a lot of derelict barns they were literally falling down and sometimes we saw the charred remains of barns because developers didnt want to spend the money to salvage that wonderful wood.
Virgil had used old wood and scraps from the lumber mill to build a few birdhouses while they still lived on the West Coast. While the barn wood ideas simmered on the back burner, they turned to making mirrors and pine furniture that didnt require a large investment of cash.
We were getting along OK, but the idea that we could do something to preserve the past wouldnt quit nagging at us.
They had the opportunity to buy 50-acres of hilly ground adjacent to the Hoosier National Forest, near the town of French Lick, Indiana.
This acreage gives us space to store the wood from barns we take down for farmers, she says. Rather than rope, we often use vines to wrap into a birdhouse design.
She says that when word got around that they would haul old wood away without charge, people started to call them.
We didnt keep the tin roof material at first, but Virgil felt it was a shame to see this flexible metal going into a land fill. As years went by, he began to work the tin into some of the birdhouses and then we learned to cut flowers and birds from tin.
They do most of the work themselves with help from some relatives. After 36-years, Darlene says she still enjoys working side by side with her husband.
Ive been doing the band saw and sander work for 20-years, Hes the one who operates the circular saw. During the process of building a birdhouse, its bouncing back and forth between us. I believe we were pioneers in the Going Green revolution in Indiana. It was around 1990 when we changed from building pine furniture to recycling old barns.
They have no problem with innovating only to be copied.
We just keep moving ahead into designing and making new things from old. This year well have ornamental flowers and birds cut from tin. We make egrets, blue heron, flamingo, ready to set out in a garden. Youd think they were real.
Their son, Thad, will be with them at Shaker Woods. His specialty is carving fish and birds into wood plaques. Virgil will demonstrate various phases of the process of building birdhouses priced between $30 and $45.