Gimme Shelter

The things you can’t live without.

SAMUEL MIRELEZ is the unofficial Saint Francis of San Antonio. For the past 35 years he has carved and riveted elaborate aluminum birdhouses for the annual migration of purple martins, which jet in every spring from South America, seeking housing for their soon-to-hatch babies. As Mirelez, a retired Kelly Field instrument mechanic and technician, describes it, his avian artistry was launched on the occasion of his twenty-third wedding anniversary. “It was coming up, and I didn’t have any money to buy a good present, so out of red Folgers coffee cans I built a replica of the San Fernando Cathedral, where my wife and I got married.” News of the miniature got out to the neighbors, then the local newspapers, and after Mirelez gifted a few to family members around the state, word spread to Austin: In 1999 the craftsman was invited to show his lilliputian San Antonio missions as part of the Governor’s Mansion’s Christmas decor. He’s now fashioned castles after ones in Germany, France, and Russia, as well as models of the Taj Mahal, the Chrysler Building, London’s Big Ben, the University of Texas Tower, and the state capitol—all told, about five hundred pieces of funky yard art, each one inspired by photo books he borrows from his neighborhood library. After the original birdhouse rusted, Mirelez started making his little retreats out of prepainted, enamelized aluminum scraps from residential siding. It’s definitely one way to spend your retirement. “Instead of going to a beer joint and watching TV, I’m staying busy and healthy,” Mirelez attests. “My only bad habit is to tell good, clean jokes.” Have you heard the one about the man whose art is for the birds? From $50 to $350. Available at Yard Dog, 1510 S. Congress Ave., Austin, 512-912-1613, yarddog.com, and Webb Gallery, 209-211 W. Franklin, Waxahachie, 972-938-8085, webbartgallery.com.

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