For 20 Years, Project Return Has Gone To the Birds

Every local non-profit chases the same dollars. Each organization tries to come up with a unique fundraiser. But even in uber-clever Westport, it’s not easy.

Twenty years ago, Project Return created one that’s for the birds. It’s still flying high.

A beautiful birdhouse, designed and built by Miggs Burroughs.

A beautiful birdhouse, designed and built by Miggs Burroughs.

The idea is simple: a Birdhouse Auction. Artists build and donate special birdhouses. They’re displayed at a gala, then sold to the highest bidder. Winners get spectacular, one-of-a-kind birdhouses.

Project Return — the North Compo Road home for teenage girls and young women in crisis — wins too. Some of the birdhouses fetch over $10,000.

Miggs Burroughs has built birdhouses every year since the 1st auction, 20 years ago.

His 1st one was done on a lark (ho ho). He didn’t know much about Project Return, but liked the idea. That year, he constructed a “typical” birdhouse. Inside, a woman sat sadly on a chair. Burroughs added clipped “wings” to the figure — a metaphor for girls’ lives before they move into Project Return.

Once he saw how much the organization helped — and realized how much fun it is to create a birdhouse — he was hooked.

“I’m not a decorative artist,” Burroughs claims. “Some people” — among the more than 100 artists each year — “do amazing things with shells and buttons.”

A lenticular birdhouse, by Miggs Burroughs.

A lenticular birdhouse, by Miggs Burroughs.

So Burroughs’ birdhouses now include his specialty: lenticular photos. This year, he’s incorporated a 2-foot-high wooden lantern — which he won, interestingly, in a raffle at last year’s pre-auction Birdhouse Stroll, when over 50 local businesses display birdhouses in their windows.

Each of the lantern’s 4 windows includes a girl’s face. As you shift your gaze, the faces morph into birds. You have to see it to get the full effect — just as you should see all the different birdhouses.

Hans Wilhelm has also been involved from the start. After designing many birdhouses, he now draws each year’s special invitation.

The birds on those drawings are made into styrofoam figures, and grace the Project Return garden.

“I love the birdhouse concept,” Wilhelm says. “It puts creativity to good use. Everyone has fun. And Project Return is a group of wonderful, dedicated people.”

Hans Wilhelm and his wife, with some of his whimsical creations. (Photo/Miggs Burroughs)

Hans Wilhelm and his wife, with some of his whimsical creations. (Photo/Miggs Burroughs)

This year’s Birdhouse Auction — set for Friday, March 27 (7 p.m., Rolling Hills Country Club, Wilton) — includes an astonishing variety of materials: birch bark, feathers, stained glass, ceramics, wood, metal, 3D printing. The items are traditional and contemporary, whimsical and contemplative, decorative and practical, designed for outdoor and indoor use.

The auction also includes paintings, vases, serving bowls, candlesticks, shadow boxes, lamps and more. There’s a buffet, martini bar, and music from DNR.

The free Birdhouse Stroll takes place Sunday, March 8 (2-4 p.m.) downtown, with a kickoff reception at Eileen Fisher. It ends at the Westport Historical Society, with refreshments by DavidsTea, Saugatuck Sweets and Sono Bakery, plus a raffle and prizes.

Added this year is another free event: a Birdhouse Retrospective. Set for the Westport Arts Center on Thursday, March 19 (6-8 p.m.), it’s a look back at 20 years of birdhouses and artwork.

Check out 1, 2 or all 3 events. Or go see some birdhouses on display in Max’s Art Supplies window. They’re there just as they’ve always been, even though Max’s closed last year. (Thanks, Shirley Mellor!)

Say a little birdie sent you.

(Tickets for the Birdhouse Gala on Friday, March 27 are $125 through March 8; $150 thereafter. To purchase tickets, or for more information. visit 

(Design by Hans Wilhelm)

(Design by Hans Wilhelm)





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