Spring is for the birds

Francestown Old Meeting House

Spring is slowly creeping back into the region, and with it, the return of the migrated birds. And for the bird who is particularly picky about its housing arrangement, they may want to head down to the area of Francestown, where after this weekend, there will be a surfeit of particularly well-decorated birdhouses.

The birdhouses are pretty much identical in structure, all built to order by Scott Jenkins’ woodworking students at ConVal High School. But each one is utterly unique — painted and otherwise decorated by a plethora of local artists. They all pitched in their talents to contribute a birdhouse, which will be sold in a silent auction this weekend to benefit the ongoing improvement projects, maintenance and upkeep of Francestown’s Old Meeting House. The silent auction is only one of several events going on throughout Saturday that will support the Meeting House, in what the trustees of the building are calling their “Spring Fling.”

Steve Griffin, the president of the Meeting House trustees, explained in a recent phone interview that the Spring Fling and other events are fundraisers to help offset the constant cost of maintaining the Meeting House. The trustees have created a 10-year, $70,000 improvement plan for the building. This year, there are several things on the agenda, including re-glazing the Meeting House windows and adding a new septic field. And of course there is the Meeting House’s first order of business this spring — fixing the steeple, which was struck by lightning earlier this year. Repairs were put off when snow started to fly. The steeple repairs will be paid for by insurance, but the trustees will have to contribute a $1,000 deductable.

The artists were asked to decorate the bird houses earlier in the year, when there was still greenery to be found. Most of the houses depict spring scenes or avian themes. One was even modified to look like a miniature replica of the Meeting House itself.

Artist Pat Swan of Francestown, who is a professional watercolorist, said she started her acrylic-painted birdhouse with an idea of the colors she wanted to use, not necessarily a specific scene. “I figured I needed a sky and some green, and all the little creatures that fly around. I don’t think when I sat down I knew where it was going. I just sat down and started painting. It just develops, like someone writing a book, the theme unfolds as you’re writing, that’s the way it works.”

For some artists, it was a matter of stretching painting muscles that hadn’t been flexed in a long time. Francestown artist Kathy Marx has focused her artistic work for more than a decade on paper mache.

“I used to paint a lot, and then I discovered how to do paper mache, and in order to get good at it, it became my sole focus,” said Marx. “I’m not the kind of person that can do two different things at once,” she added with a laugh.

Marx generally focuses her artwork on wildlife with a whimsical touch, she explained, creating creatures such as a blue giraffe or a flying moose. So when she brushed off her old painting skills to decorate her birdhouse, she kept with that theme. “If I can put wildlife in a painting, that’s what I’m going to do,” she said.

Gamboling around her birdhouse are cats, and some smaller members of the animal kindgdom. Marx couldn’t resist adding some of those whimsical touches, including a chipmunk, newt and frog sharing a strawberry, and on the roof, which is painted to look like the sky, birds sour above it all — in a hot air balloon.

Playing on the spring theme, landscape artist Carol Russell of Francestown took inspiration from the classic book “The Secret Garden,” for her birdhouse. Inspiration struck as she was cleaning out her bookcase, she said in a phone interview Tuesday.

“It’s a book so many children loved over the years. When I was teaching, my students all loved it, both boys and girls. My own children have read and probably re-read it, and my grandchildren. It’s something people have known and loved throughout the years, and I hope the birds love it,” she said with a laugh.

Among other items offered in the silent action is a woodblock bird print by artist Betsy Cox, a print of the Old Meeting House, hand blown glass by Clevenger Bros. Glassworks and designed by bird-guide author and nature artist Arthur B. Singer, fairy garden ornaments from the Window Shop at Monadnock Community Hospital, gift certificates for kayak rentals, Belletetes, hair cutting with Monique at Manhattan East and Town and Country Vet. The grand prize of the auction will be an Old Meeting House wedding, including rehearsal and guidance from the Meeting House’s wedding team ($250 minimum bid).

Or, if the auction isn’t your thing, there are other events — a buffet dinner, dance music provided by Sound Choice DJ Services of Jaffrey, and fireworks provided by Atlas PyroVision of Jaffrey.

The Spring Fling will be held in the Gibson Room at Crotched Mountain Golf Resort on Saturday. Tickets are $40 per person and are available for purchase in advance at the Francestown Village Store.

The Old Meeting House renovation efforts are procured privately by the Meeting House 401(c) non-profit corporation.

For more information, go to for Spring Fling updates and details on silent auction items. Or, follow the Old Meeting House on Facebook.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.

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