After co-leading the June 9, 2018 WaterMarks walk with Nancy Frank, artist Mollie Oblinger decided to present a proposal for a public art installation during the KKRNIA and SKKRNIAummer Picnic. The proposals from all three artists were so popular that many community members wanted to see all three realized. The Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers subsequently applied for and received funding through a Milwaukee Arts Board grant to support Mollie’s Bird, Bat, and Owl Houses.
Mollie started by making early pencil drawings after talking to the community about the project.
While working on the proposal, Mollie went on bird walks like the June 9 walk to learn, to meet people, and to observe.
The next step for Mollie was to create digital drawings of the bird, bat, and owl houses.
Mollie then focused on the construction of the Bird, Bat, and Owl Houses, using plans from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. Most components were constructed from cedar; however, the posts and bat house were made from exterior grade wood as recommended in the Cornell plans.
Along the way, Mollie realized that she should invest in better dust collection! But, as she said, “at least cedar smells good.”
The next step was to apply a primer. Mollie only applied primer to the exterior of the boxes. While people like bright colors, birds are pretty happy with natural wood. One exception is bats, who need a black box to help keep them warm during Wisconsin’s cold winters. That is also the reason that Mollie’s bat house faces south.
It was a cold, wet spring in 2019! But Mollie had to keep working in order to be ready for the scheduled May installation. She used a farmer’s shed and a portable heater to work on the posts. Since there weren’t any lights in the shed, Mollie wore a headlamp on cloudy days.
Indoors, painting the smaller parts was easier.
Mollie took over all of the tables in the studios at Ripon College during the 2019 spring break.
When the houses were ready to install, community members came off their porches to help! It was a great day, and the support and hard work from everyone was so heartwarming.
The many people involved that day represented the Haggerty Museum of Art, Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers, YouthBuild, YouthBuild River Neighbors in Action.
Esperanza (a local neighbor) brought everyone lunch. Travis (from KKRNIA) workKKRNIAhard, and Stephanie (from SSCHC) was amazing!
On May 25, 2019 we celebrated the sculptures during a Garden Day at Pulaski Park. This annual event serves as the opening day of the community garden. Once again, the community really came together and pitched in. This time, they formed a mulch brigade to get the garden ready for planting! Signage was installed on each of the bird and bat house posts, and then Mollie led a tour explaining the unique design of each house.
At the end of the tour, DanceCircus' Betty Salamun led Salamunup in a special water-inspired dance.
Mollie Oblinger, Bird, Bat, and Owl Houses, 2019. Six sculptures, wood and acrylic latex paint mounted on wooden posts. Dimensions variable, Installed along the Kinnickinnic River Trail.
Staff from the Haggerty Museum of Art and, Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers were instrumental in making this project possible, as was funding from the Milwaukee Arts Board. Travis, Esperanza, and all of the KK River Neighbors in Action are the heart and soul of this project. Without their enthusiasm, sweat, and support it would not have been possible!