A prolific and tireless renaissance man, Dana Depew has proven his ability to effortlessly shift between projects and mediums to suit each new idea. Throughout the past six years, Depew has produced more than 1,000 handmade birdhouses, including the permanent installation of large scale collections of as many as 100 houses to a specific tree in places like the Grove Court Sculpture Garden that overlooks the downtown skyline, as well as private residences from Cleveland Hts. to North Ridgeville, with six more scheduled for just the next month. He aims to create 50 to 100 new birdhouses per week, and like a modern day folk hero, drives around with a ladder and small stockpile ready to install them anywhere at any time.
As a recipient of a 2016 Creative Workforce Fellowship, it was clear this would be an especially busy year for him. Thanks to generous funding from Cuyahoga Arts and Culture and the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture, Depew has ramped up his massive birdhouse installation spanning all of Northeast Ohio, as well as cities throughout the Midwest.
Depew's Urban Aviary Project began six years ago. Originally making individual birdhouses painted in bright pastel hues, he installed them on vacant and abandoned buildings and houses in depressed neighborhoods. "I produce the birdhouses entirely from woods and lumber gleaned from abandoned and foreclosed homes located throughout Cleveland," Depew explains.
Since the beginning, Depew has been carefully documenting and archiving each birdhouse's location.
"I would go back and check up on them periodically and either the house was torn down or it remained standing and the birdhouse was still present," Depew says. "On some occasions aluminum siding was taken from the house but the birdhouse remained. It was almost as if the vandals respected or appreciated the bright object, or maybe they thought it had no value and didn't take it."
Depew's Urban Aviary Factory is an on-site workshop at local arts festivals. Depew elaborates, "At a designated time or during a scheduled event such Waterloo Arts Fest or FireFish Festival, I would fabricate on-site birdhouses and give them away to people with the stipulation that they have seven days to hang it up and post a picture of it on social media. The birdhouses are numbered and I document where the participants hang them in a log."
Branching outside of Northeast Ohio, Depew began randomly selecting people from White Pages in cities such as Cincinnati and Chicago. Mailing each of these randomly selected people a surprise birdhouse, Depew explains, "I send them a note to hang it up and post a picture on social media and most have done it."
Earlier on, the project was amplified by what Depew describes as the "John Main Bird Bomb." After retiring, John Main spent years building hundreds of birdhouses from the basement of his small house in North Olmsted, but never hung any outside. After passing away in 1990, his wife left everything intact until her passing two years ago.
"The family had an estate sale and I acquired hundreds of his houses, wood, his tools, his bandsaw," Depew says. "I hung up all the houses around Cleveland and used all the wood and his tools to exactly replicate the houses he made. I viewed it as a collaboration between myself and this individual who never got to see or enjoy his work out in the public."
Dana Depew studied sculpture at Kent State University. His repurposed signage and light-based work can be seen all over town; including 78th Street Studios, Melt Bar & Grilled and Big Fun. Earlier this year, you voted him Best Local Artist in Scene's Best of Cleveland.