Copper in the Arts

December 2009

Erickson Birdhouses: Weathering the Seasons Beautifully

By Robyn Jasko

Erickson BirdhouseErickson Birdhouse, complete with Berman's signature verdigris copper roof

Photograph by Paul David
The birds of the world are movin' on up to shiny copper-topped homes thanks to artist Eric Berman, founder of Erickson Birdhouses in Lancaster, PA. Along with his wife Peg, and his trusty dog Roscoe (who Berman jokingly refers to as his shipping manager) Erickson Birdhouses can now be found as faraway as Japan, for some very lucky birds to enjoy.

But Berman didn't always have his sights on woodworking. With Fortune 500 roots, Berman began his own home construction business in 1986, and shifted gears to start Erickson Birdhouses in 1991.

"Something just got under me, and I thought, 'I'm just going to start making birdhouses,'" he recalls.

He went to work, and developed a handcrafted line of rustic birdhouses with metal roofs. He named the company Erickson Birdhouses after his mother, who's maiden name was Erickson.

"My mother was creative, and I thought it had a nice ring to it," he says.

He became a member of the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen in 1991, and started selling his birdhouses at their weekly shows. After experimenting with several different materials, Berman started adding his signature copper roofs to his work, which immediately attracted the attention of buyers

"With copper, you're differentiating yourself," says Berman. "When we put a verdigris on the copper-we're pretty good at that-people wanted it."

To complete the look and help withstand the elements through the seasons, Berman began mounting his birdhouses on copper poles. Then, at the Philadelphia Craft Show, his work caught the eye of a scout from Colonial Williamsburg, and he was asked to create a series of birdhouses to be sold to visitors.

Eric Berman of Erickson BirdhousesBerman with his NBBA endorsement sign

Photograph by Paul David
The business grew, and Berman enlisted the help of nearby tinsmith and metal fabricator to keep up with the demand, without having to rely on mass production.

"What I like about it is that every product we make is original---no two are alike," says Berman. His copper of choice is type L (typical for plumbing), which he purchases from Weinstein Supply in Philadelphia. "We buy quite a bit of copper. It's interesting when I go in there---they know I'm a woodworker, but I buy more copper than their plumbers."

To make sure the birds are cozy all year-long, Berman uses on brass screws and copper marine nails from Vermont's Shelburne Museum for extra durability.

"These birdhouses are going to be around for awhile," he says with a laugh.

In fact, Erickson Birdhouses are so exceptional, they were recently chosen as the official Birdhouse of the National Backyard Bird Association (NBBA), a very convincing tongue-in-cheek accolade that Berman touts at shows and on his website, complete with press statements and an impressive association logo, which he completely fabricated.

"I just have to own up to it," says the good-natured Berman, who admitted that the NBBA was created just to see if anyone would believe it. "We just had the most fun with this. I have signs when I'm exhibiting that talk about the NBBA award, and people say, 'That's great!' I just tell them it's an honor."

One distressed customer wrote Berman an angry letter, disappointed that the NBBA endorsed birdhouse had a perch outside the entrance (a very controversial detail in the birding world).

"He actually wrote 'And, to think you're the official birdhouse of the NBBA!'" recalls Berman. "I just got such a hoot out of that."

Berman continues to look at the lighter side of life, and is grateful for his craft.

"I have a daughter in New York and a son in LA," says Berman. "I put them both through school building birdhouses---I feel pretty good about that."

Resources:

See Eric Berman make a birdhouse with copper roof.

Erickson Birdhouses, 1140 Elizabeth Ave., Suite #1, Lancaster, PA, (717) 397-2266

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