Waveland woman finds refuge from pain by building birdhouses - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Waveland woman finds refuge from pain by building backyard bird habitats

In a small space inside Shieldsboro Bazaar in Bay St. Louis, you will find a tiny village of birdhouses designed and hand-made by Kathleen Johnson. In a small space inside Shieldsboro Bazaar in Bay St. Louis, you will find a tiny village of birdhouses designed and hand-made by Kathleen Johnson.
BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) -

A Waveland woman builds a house every week, but humans aren't allowed to move in. Her houses are just for the birds. And she's proud to say her birdhouses are living art, and they're gracing thousands of backyards all over the country.

In a small space inside Shieldsboro Bazaar in Bay St. Louis, you will find a tiny village. There's a log cabin, a church, and miniature houses bursting with vibrant colors and whimsical architecture. They are birdhouses designed and hand-made by Kathleen Johnson.

"I get to pick out the house I'm going to build. I get to choose the furniture, the color, the style, the roof. Every Monday morning, I basically move into a new house," said Johnson.

Believe it or not, the entire neighborhood was crafted from materials salvaged from demolished homes, yard sales, and trash piles.

"I just see art in everything," she said. "There's something functional in everything that's thrown out, even an old tea pot, an old coffee urn, a lamp."

Johnson didn't discover her artistic talent until later on in life. For 20 years, she worked as a carpenter in Wyoming.

In 2005, Johnson moved to Hancock County to use her skills to help rebuild homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Working so closely with storm victims, along with physical injuries, eventually took their toll on her emotional health.   

"I still find myself working with the art, because I need that in my life. I need that solace and that quiet, and the creativity part," said Johnson.

Johnson also found that her birdhouses gave people a little piece of what they've lost.

"The little bayou house that I make, people will come along and just go, 'My grandmother had a fishing camp just like that,'" said Johnson.

She sells between 300-400 of the backyard habitats a year. They range from the simple to more elaborate structures. She calls her birdhouses fun, funky, functional folk art.

"They're living art. Never in my wildest dreams would I think that a little birdhouse could spread so much joy. That's what it is, a little bit of joy in people's lives," said Johnson.

Johnson's business is called Backwater Studio.  She also builds houses for bats, butterflies, toads and insects.

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