In the years since GG’s 1984 arrival in East Lake, she began noticing that larger and larger houses were being built on lots of the same size. That meant less room for trees, less space for animal habitats and fewer places for birds to nest. So she decided to build a birdhouse or two.
Now, more than 30 years later, GG’s birdhouse project has evolved into new and unexpected forms. Her front and back yards are filled with elaborate sculptural structures. Many don’t even look like birdhouses. They are as finely detailed as they are numerous, multicolored and bedazzled with wind chimes, brooches, lamps, vintage picture frames and the like. Her property is known throughout her Atlanta neighborhood for its hundreds of avian abodes.
“My goal is to get into the Guinness Book of World Records,” says GG, who welcomes curious passersby to tour her property. “But there’s no way to tell how many I have.”
Over the years, GG — who prefers not to share her given name or exact address — has developed a process. Each birdhouse starts with an object that catches her eye: a thrift-store dollhouse, a Christmas sled decoration from a holiday clearance sale, a replica of a Georgia cottage made by a local craftsperson. She then uses caulk, cull lumber and the treasures and decorations she’s collected to create a one-of-a-kind birdhouse. Yes, they are birdhouses — each includes at least one small hole for birds to use. They’re also yard art and sculpture and much more.
Roof tiles top each birdhouse to protect it from the elements, one of many techniques that GG learned through trial and error. She’s also adept at repurposing items she finds left outside nearby houses. She fashioned a reflective floral multimedia mural from discarded mirrors.
“A toilet makes a nice planter,” she says. “Both the top and the bottom.”
Many of GG’s birdhouse sculptures live in her yard, but some haven’t made it there yet. They stay in her home, not quite finished, awaiting final touches or the perfect outdoor spot for hanging. “I work until it’s complete to me,” she says.
Completed birdhouses require her attention too. Maintenance needs are constant. GG, who’s in her 60s, often can be found walking her property reattaching fallen decorative elements, removing leaves and readjusting moving parts.
“Sometimes I step back, look at my work and surprise myself, like, ‘Wow I did that!’” she says. “It’s such a joy.”
GG grew up in Boston, the daughter of an artistically inclined mother who left the South during the 20th century’s Great Migration. Now, back in Atlanta, GG cares for her aging mother, tends her yard and creates sculpture.
“You have to find something that uses your creativity,” says GG, a retired high school social studies teacher. “We all gravitate toward something. Find it and pour your energy into it.”
GG works in her kitchen or, on a nice day, in her carport, greeting neighbors as they walk their dogs or jog by. Motorists sometimes stop when they see her yard, the most curious leaving their cars to ask questions. She has regular visitors too, who come by every few weeks to see what’s new. GG describes her outdoor birdhouse space as a “living room for people and nature.”
“Society has become so distant,” she says. “People don’t know how to approach others. I commune with nature and like to share it with whoever enjoys it along with me.”
GG also sees the history of the land as an important part of living and making art there. “This land is Creek tribal land,” she says. “The island across the street used to be trolley lines when my mother was a child. When I moved here, the area was mixed — African Americans and elderly Caucasians. When they passed, their houses were rented or sold. Recently, housing prices have gone up. It’s no longer affordable for young families.
“Change happens in cycles,” she says. “The story is still developing.” GG often visits the DeKalb History Center or Macon’s Tubman Museum to continue learning.
She recognizes a cardinal she’s named Shubert. It perches outside her home each night. Chickadees, purple martins and other birds come by too, attracted by her yard art and, perhaps, her elaborate collection of subtropical fruit-bearing plants. Muscadines and banana and kiwi trees grow in the backyard. She says the weather has gotten significantly warmer since she moved here. She can tell by how her plants are thriving. Hers is a place where humans and nature happily coexist.
“I maintain the land,” GG says. “I’m a steward.”