A dog walker passes handcrafted bird houses that line the window at Overman Academy recently in downtown Skowhegan. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

SKOWHEGAN — A fundraising event that started with River Roads Artisan Gallery has expanded into a communitywide effort to revitalize and bring community pride to downtown Skowhegan through the use of birdhouses.

The executive director for Main Street Skowhegan, Kristina Cannon, said that local artist Kathleen Perelka approached her with the idea in December to build and decorate birdhouses and to hang them on light posts around the downtown area.

Initially, River Road Artisan Gallery artists were building and painting the birdhouses. After multiple meetings and discussions, the idea expanded and began to include a variety of local businesses. In order to fundraise, the birdhouses are being auctioned off on the Main Street Skowhegan Facebook page throughout the month of June. Funds raised are going toward the supplies and to Main Street Skowhegan projects and initiatives.

“This project and also the other two benefits were a direct response to COVID and the need to do something positive to combat the darkness that COVID brought,” Perelka said. “Bird houses indicate a bright and hopeful future.”

Alan Haley and a group of people built 50 birdhouses in his workshop in January. Gallery Members began decorating and painting them. Then, they placed the birdhouses in the gallery windows to garner interest for the River Road Artisan Co-op opening in May.

Handcrafted birdhouses in the window display recently at River Roads Artisans Gallery downtown Skowhegan. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

The first painting event was held in May in Coburn Park. Main Street Skowhegan directed the event and had 50 birdhouses available for decorating. The event was a hit, according to Perelka, who said guests of all ages attended.

Somerset Public Health displays the birdhouses painted at the first event. All the birdhouses were numbered and mapped out so that anyone can find their birdhouse five years from now, Perelka said.

Other organizations and businesses that got involved include REACH After School Program and Overman Academy. Somerset Public Health covered material costs in addition to displaying birdhouses. The REACH program lead the painting parties. Overman Academy built and decorated birdhouses.

Overman Academy is a charter school that is part of Community Regional Charter School district. Located in Skowhegan on Water Street, the school refers to their students “learners.” The district’s vision is to be “community centered, uncompromisingly learner focused,” so joining in the efforts of decorating birdhouses was something they were interested in.

Crystal Priest, district technology director and director of innovations and special projects, said they strive to “provide opportunities for our learners to be involved in community and community projects.”

Perelka, who worked with a group of students at Overman Academy to paint the birdhouses, said, “I’ve never met a more polite bunch of  learners in my life!”

Handcrafted birdhouses line the window display at River Roads Artisans Gallery in downtown Skowhegan. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

The charter school painted between 40 and 50 birdhouses out of the approximate 150 in total. Overman Academy hopes their birdhouses will get to be displayed on the light poles closest to their school on Water Street. Until the birdhouses get hung up, Overman Academy’s are on display in their window.

“We really look forward to working with community groups in the future and hope that we can have more members of community groups come in and work with our learners on various projects,” said Priest.

Another painting workshop was held Saturday in Coburn Park. The event will once again be sponsored by Main Street Skowhegan. The birdhouses will be hung on light posts on a date to be determined.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the birdhouse project continues into the future,” said Perelka. “It’s a very positive, hopeful, colorful and enjoyable thing to do for all ages.”

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