Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Black Cat Pottery Holiday Open House - Meet the Artists: Timothy Hanks and Bird Homes by Tim

Tim at work in his studio
It's only a few days until the Second Annual Black Cat Pottery Holiday Open House on December 10 (10a-4p), during which we open up the studio to fellow local artists and all of our fans for a day of holiday cheer!  This year, we'll be featuring artisan baked goods and live music, in addition to five unique garden- and home-inspired artists.  I thought it would be nice to introduce them to you so you could get to know each of these amazingly creative and generous folks a little bit better.

Tim Hanks, owner and operator of Bird Homes by Tim, earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Wayne State University, exploring numerous media during his studies. The offspring of two creative parents, Tim was never discouraged from his creative pursuits but it wasn't until about ten years ago that he found his metier. While shopping for a gift, he noticed that most bird houses sold to the general public were of very poor-quality, often made on the cheap overseas. He decided to make something better; more than bird houses, he wanted to make bird homes, using his woodworking expertise and the artistic skills and sensibilities that had been finely honed during his sojourn at Wayne State.

Tim's time at WSU was an important period in his growing awareness as a fine artist. "While attending art school, one particular class, Native American Art, strongly reaffirmed my ideals about the role art could play in people's lives," he says. "Despite not having a word for art, historically the aboriginal tribes of North America infused everyday, utilitarian objects with representations of spiritual figures and potent symbolism, taking what could be a simple, mundane object and transforming it into a spiritually charged piece. My approach to artistic expression is, at its core, one that echoes this concept."


The resulting products, Bird Homes by Tim, combine strength and elegance with features designed to protect and shelter songbirds over many years, relying on the specifications developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Each home features the ingenious use of repurposed antique hardware to help protect the entrance against interlopers. They are also made with proper drainage, ventilation, and access for seasonal maintenance, maximizing comfort and functionality.

"With each home I create, I seek to produce an aesthetic design that does not interfere with its function," said Tim. "Form has to follow function above all else." Each Bird Home by Tim is a one-of-a-kind creation, built of durable, 3/4-inch-thick, top-grade California redwood, with integrated hardware decorations, sometimes with complementary pyrography. These charming designs are built with an attention to detail that shows a true craftsman's touch, reflecting a spirit of Old World attention to detail.

I met Tim several years ago at the Indian Village Home and Garden Tour, where we were both vendors.  During a brief respite at my own tent, I took a quick tour around to see the other artists at the event.  I was immediately to Tim's booth - partly due to the extremely high quality of his work but also because of the pieces themselves; although I am not a "birder", I am always interested in the birds in my environment and find their behavior fascinating. Over time, I was able to become friends with Tim and his wife Barb.  I remember the first time I went out with the two of them for a meal and a movie and that I felt like the referee in a tennis match, so quickly was the conversation progressing between the two of them, with no input on my part - quite a feat, for those whom are aware of my tendencies to verbosity!

Since then, Tim has become one of the folks in my network of artists whom I try to promote and with whom I share opportunities, and he has certainly returned the favor. But more than that, Tim (and Barb) has been there for me at some very critical times, especially in the last year or so.  He called up at the last minute the night before the first Holiday Open House - right after my friend Chris had called to say he would not be able to make it down as early as he hoped due to a business obligation - and came over to help me clean up the basement. Briefly put, Tim voluntarily took on cleaning tasks I would not ask of anyone, ever.  And he and Barb also, at the last minute, helped me break down from an event during a period when I was in a lot of pain due to a chronic health condition. But most importantly, Tim was there for me earlier this year when I had to let my cat Alexander Ulysses go - a debt I can never truly repay. Tim has truly been a friend in deed.

I find Tim's work both beautiful and functional, a combination sorely lacking in most of our current cultural artifacts. I never tire of hearing about his newest artistic challenge - a challenge, more often than not, he has imposed upon himself. Some of my favorite conversations with Tim are discussions of recent finds of vintage hardware, the progress of recent designs and new ideas on synthesizing his training and his evolving aesthetic. It's always exhilarating to hear the excitement in his voice as he describes the evolution of a design, the resolution of a conceptual barrier or the discovery of a gem amongst a box of dross.

"As a young man, my sense of the wonder of nature was developed by exploring the wooded, undeveloped areas near my family's home in Warren, Michigan, as well as during vacations at my grandparents' lakeside cottage in rural mid-Michigan. It fed my fascination for our avian wildlife species and their habitats, a fascination that continues as I have been able to successfully channel it into my craft." - Timothy Hanks

See More of Tim's work at

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