Marshfield Builds Bird 'Mansions' From Old Wood

Of all the things Jack Pattison thought he might do in retirement, looking for nice legs and building birdhouses weren't contenders. Until his wife went away one weekend to see her mother.

Pattison, who taught elementary school art in Pembroke for 35 years, always liked working with wood and building things. Nine years ago, his wife went to Florida for the weekend and he decided to surprise her when she got home with a gift: a birdhouse. He found old furniture pieces and got carried away, expanding and adding columns and decorative touches.

"That's not a birdhouse," she exclaimed when she returned. "That's a bird mansion!"

Two members of their church each wanted one, then someone else. "You ought to go into the business of making these," a friend told him.

"All right," Pattison said. "It will give me something to do when I retire. Everybody should have something to do."

By the time he retired in 2008, he was becoming known for the bird mansions he makes from recycled furniture.

Along the way, he developed a new habit: stopping by the Marshfield transfer station several times a week.

That's where the nice legs come in - from chairs, cut into pieces, they are perfect for columns.

Pattison builds 75 to 80 birdhouses a year, is nearing his 600th, and after nine years, still loves it.

"Every single one is different," he said. "Every time I pick up the tools, I have a sense of, `What am I going to do now?' "

They are mainly for songbirds - thrushes, wrens and finches.

He starts with a basic square pine box, then looks in his collection of spindles, chair legs and curtain rods for the columns and other architectural fancies.

Ideas also pop up when he is driving around. He saw ivy growing up a red brick building and carved in some vines on his latest birdhouse "to give it a Newport mansion look."

A friend who is lost in retirement, not knowing what to do, told him, "You're lucky. You have something you like to do." "I made something to do," Pattison replied.

That's his advice for others who worry what they'll do once they stop working.

"You need a plan," Pattison said. "Start trying new things well before you retire. And you also need a Plan B. You have to be flexible. If you're not, you break."

The bird mansions come in several sizes, costing from $60 to $120. "They are fully functional, built like a tank, with special glue and a pneumatic nail gun," he said. The roofs contain copper, "a romantic metal that won't rust," and the four-step painting process is the most time-consuming element.

His customers are all ages, his busiest season is the fall, and his sales pitch includes, "This is the perfect gift for the person who doesn't need anything."

Pattison thrives on retirement. Every day is the weekend. His wife still works, so he has a leisurely breakfast, sits on their deck, goes to his shop, or works outside.

"I love what I do. I am enjoying life. Am I making a lot of money? No."

But in this retirement, that's not the point.

This program aired on August 18, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.


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