The next time you go shopping for groceries at the Piggly Wiggly store in Olive Branch, or stock up on birdseed at Wild Birds Unlimited in Southaven, or even get hardware supplies at Germantown Hardware in Germantown, Tennessee, you might come across a uniquely designed birdhouse that’s available for sale.
The craftsman behind the creations that are found at these stores and at area festival events is a man who turned building birdhouses into an art form. In fact, R.P. Funderburk’s birdhouses have caught the attention of the Mississippi Arts Commission (MAC).
Funderburk, age 76, applied for and won a $500 mini-grant from the commission to be used for supplies to build more of the houses that he has become known for over 15 years of work from a shop at his Olive Branch home.
He is a member of the Craftsmen Guild of Mississippi but has worked around wood in his working career.
“I was a home repairman for years and I ended up saving old boards when I was doing repairs and I ended up with a stack of boards and didn’t want to throw them away,” Funderburk said. “I just started meddling with birdhouses and one day I started seeing the art in it. All of a sudden, I could see they could be a lot different.”
The $500 mini-grant is part of nearly $1.4 million the MAC has awarded, made possible by continued funding from the state Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Not only will you find the houses at the aforementioned stores and at Miss Cordelia’s, a Harbor Town location in Memphis, but Funderburk packs up his homes and shows them at area festivals, including the annual Hummingbird Festival in Holly Springs.
Especially during the off-season from festivals, the outlets are what Funderburk caters to.
“I’ve gotten so I have a lot of retail accounts now,” Funderburk said. “Germantown Hardware, Miss Cordelia’s, Olive Branch Piggly Wiggly and Wild Birds in Southaven. They’ll sell two or three of them and then I’d bring in two or three more. I just work them off where I can.”
“Mississippi boasts an embarrassment of riches when it comes to artistic talent in our state,” said Malcolm White, MAC executive director. “MAC is proud to support the artists who were selected to receive grant awards this year. These individuals should be commended for their commitment to artistic excellence as well as their ability to communicate complex thoughts and emotions through the arts.”
While practical, in that a number of Funderburk’s creations include a hinged bottom for owners to keep them clean, he also knows the final item may not ever see a bird set itself up inside.
But he also continues to get photos of his houses from buyers who let him know the fine feathered friends have found a place in their particular yard.
“I know more than half of them never make the yard,” Funderburk noted. “People will put it on their mantle or in their sunroom. They are really birdhouses. People will put them out and they’d send me pictures all of the time with birds in them.”
The Mississippi Arts Commission is a state agency serving residents in the state by providing grants that support programs to enhance communities; assist arts and arts organizations; promote the arts in education and celebrate the state’s cultural heritage.
So, the next time to see Funderburk at a festival or see his houses in a store, don’t just brush them off as a domicile for birds. They are grant award-winning works of art.
For more information on the birdhouses, call Funderburk at 901-734-2478.
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune.