Magical. Charming. Right out of a fairy tale. Lisa Infante creates tiny fantasy worlds with her one-of-a-kind, custom birdhouses. The attention to detail is what sets her artwork apart from typical garden decorations. The houses are three-dimensional mosaics made from atypical materials. While she does use glass and tile for some of her mosaic work, the birdhouses are uniquely pieced together from organic materials.
Driftwood, stones, lichen, acorns, shells and moss. Not only does Infante build the houses one by one, piece by piece, but most of her materials are painstakingly collected from her own garden and from the copious forest adjacent to her Dewatto home. Each element speaks to her as she finds it — a branch resembles a window sash, a chunk of driftwood a lintel, a section of tree root twists like a craggy chimney.
Infante’s studio is an assemblage of goody jars — some hold beads and gems, others homegrown wisteria and willow twigs. Bowls of seed pods and rainbow-stained glass cut into squares called tesserae fill the shelves.
A floor-to-ceiling cabinet swings open to reveal a stash of plain, old birdhouses in every shape and style found at craft stores, thrift shops and garage sales. Each of those birdhouses is the base armature that is covered and transformed over weeks or months into an abode that any respecting fairy would call a dream home. Those original frames are indistinguishable once embedded on all sides in hundreds of stones that Infante sets tediously by hand, with tweezers, into a layer of adhesive.
Infante didn’t always have a dedicated place to fashion her art but when she and her husband, Jeff, started building their home in Tahuya 10 years ago, the studio was part of the plan. During construction, the two lived in a 28-foot travel trailer and Lisa began creating the birdhouses out of necessity.
“I originally did most of my mosaic work with stained glass — cutting my own pieces and grouting. When we moved into the trailer, I had no room to work glass. That’s when I started using pebbles, which are a lot easier and safer in a small space. I am obsessed with the houses and can work for hours on end as long as I am feeling it,” she says of her process.
Laughing, she recalls her first birdhouse done seven years ago with stones she hand-collected from a local beach.
“My technique was very rough at first. Now I have perfected the order so that the different pieces fit together tightly. I add more detail now than when I started,” she says.
And it’s those little details that make each of her birdhouses delightfully absorbing. “I like adding the swings using driftwood for the seats, or pistachio shells. I just built my first outdoor fireplace and that was really fun,” Infante says.
Tiny, wooden pots with moss topiaries flank doorways fashioned of bark, with arbors of curly grapevine and porch lanterns made from the seed pods of Japanese snowbell. Knock, knock. Who’s there? A miniscule leprechaun family whose flagstone patio is outfitted with a hand-carved dining set. Infante has a fantastic imagination, skilled hands and enviable creative patience that is evident in her chosen medium.
The wooden pots are purchased, as are the rocks she uses now. She also buys moss, finding that it holds its color better than the one she can collect from the garden. The moss is used for roofing, filling window boxes and hanging planters, and creating mini nests to cradle pearlescent beads resembling robins eggs.
The rest of the materials are collected, and she jokes that while her husband first thought she was crazy with all the sticks and stones she has amassed, he recently brought her a delightful wood burl shaped like a heart.
“He’s a great photographer himself, so he appreciates creativity,” Infante says. “All my friends have started bringing me things to use.”
With all the diminutive pieces, one would think that the houses are quite fragile but Infante claims otherwise. She tells of how a friend knocked one of the houses off a shelf and nothing broke off despite the fall.
“I screw down the main chimney and wood pieces since the tendency is to pick the houses up that way, but they do all have metal chains to hang. Everything else is attached with liquid nails,” she says. “I also coat the finished works in polyurethane but I wouldn’t recommend putting them anywhere where they will get directly rained on.”
NW Slugs Mosaics is the name of her business and most of her sales originate online through her Facebook page. The one retail location that features Infante’s work is the Crazy Lady on Bay Street Gallery and Gifts in Port Orchard.
“For years, I used to sell at several farmers markets and I want to start next year selling at the Annapolis Sunday Market on Beach Drive in Port Orchard,” she says.
In addition to the birdhouses, Infante also transforms many different types of ordinary household items into luminous, jewel-like mosaic pieces, noting that sometimes people find it easier to splurge on something gorgeous if they know they can put it to daily use. Mirrors, jars, bowls, picture frames and vases are some of the pieces she enlivens with bright, shiny stained glass. But it’s Lisa Infante’s birdhouses that beckon the fairies and all their magic to dwell among us.