Kentuck 2016: Birdhouse Project Gives Children a Chance to Be the Artist Featured

Kids can learn to build their own birdhouses at the 45th Annual Kentuck Festival of the Arts, which takes place Oct. 15-16. Kids can learn to build their own birdhouses at the 45th Annual Kentuck Festival of the Arts, which takes place Oct. 15-16. Jeff Perrigin

The Kentuck Festival of the Arts has brought artists, tourists and local families together in Northport on the third weekend in October for decades. This year, the Festival celebrates its 45th year. And one local group that has been involved with the Festival for many years is, once again, looking forward to being a part of the special event. 

George Shelton, one of Tuscaloosa’s teachers of all things woodworking, has been involved with the Kentuck Arts Festival since its earliest days. And for the past decade or so, Shelton, and the Woodworkers Association of West Alabama, has offered a build your own birdhouse project. 

 Shelton said the Woodworkers, a group of about 50 local men and women, decided to focus on The Birdhouse Project as a way to inspire kids to learn more about the craft. 

“The woodworkers group was going to the festival before that, and selling our wares and demonstrating woodworking. We felt like we needed to do a little bit more that might interest some young people in woodworking.” 

Ed Allen and George Shelton with the Woodworkers Assoc of West Alabama have been instrumental in the birdhouse project. (Photo: Josh Watkins)

Shelton said growing up, he was fortunate to have people around him to teach him about woodworking. He and the group now hope to do the same for others.  

“I would like to see young people seeking out classes and experiences in woodworking or some other activity where they are working with their hands from scratch,” he said. “So many times, people say that they don’t have the tools or don’t have someone to model after. The birdhouse project gives kids an opportunity to try woodworking hands-on and meet people who are experienced in the craft.” 

Each year at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts, the birdhouse project tables are set up in the middle of the park, in front of the Woodworkers Association booth. Demonstrations are held, and as many as 20 members put items up for sale – along with display pieces in the booth.  

“It creates quite a bit of interest and gets lots of people talking about wanting to learn about woodworking,” Shelton said. “Each child takes their birdhouse home, and some people put them up outside and invite the birds in. Some take them home and paint them and put them in their room. It’s their birdhouse, they can do what they want with them.” 

Shelton says that one of the most important tips he can give to a new woodworker is to work with someone experienced, like members of the Woodworkers Association of West Alabama.   

“An experienced woodworker can teach a new person the right way to approach a project. They will get through quicker and with more success, which means they will they are more likely to continue. I teach a woodworking class through the University and OLLI, and my students are typically people that always wanted to try. Some figure out, ‘Nope that it is not something I want to do.’ And some take it and run with it.” 

Finished birdhouses line the shelves of the Woodworkers Association of West Alabama’s studio. (Photo: Josh Watkins)

  “You can do so much that is functional with wood working and wood turning. You can make furniture, jewelry, utensils, gifts. It’s just limitless.” 

Shelton says that the birdhouse project is for kids, but it has attracted adults as well.  It’s now part of the fabric of the Kentuck Festival experience, and a way to reach out to new artists and crafters. 

“The Festival has always fascinated me in that – I drive by that location all the time – one day it is empty and the next day it is a tent city with people from all over the South and all over the nation. It is a great, tribal gathering. Artists who have made friends and come back. The diversity of artists and craft that is displayed never ceases to amaze me. I learn something every time I go. I hope I help others learn about craft and making things. It is just fun. “

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Hanson Watkins

Ms. Watkins graduated from Mountain Brook High School and lives in Birmingham with her two boys, Jack, and Charlie. She has bachelor's degrees in psychology and creative writing from Emory University, and an MBA and master's in health administration from Georgia State University. 
 
Hanson spent 10 years working in the healthcare industry in Atlanta before moving back to Birmingham several years ago to work for her father, Jim Watkins. 
 
She credits her father, who has owned several businesses over the years, for giving her the entrepreneurial spirit. Her brother, Josh Watkins, is a Birmingham lawyer who helped start the Birmingham Angel Network, a venture capital organization. 

Druid City Living (DCL) is Tuscaloosa, Alabama's premier community newspaper, covering the great people, places and activities of the area.