From Barn to Birdhouses
By Wes Mills
Photography by Michael Buck

On cold, gray December days, John Guertin can be found near the blazing forge in his Grand Rapids workshop, one hand on the gas valve, the other slowly turning his branding irons. Their glowing shapes are his tools of art.

Their searing heat burns unique designs into the faces of his handcrafted birdhouses. Birdhouse building may not be the typical vocation for a man who earned an English degree, but Guertin’s avocation, albeit his passion, is historic Michigan barns.

“The barn is more than just the structure of beams and shingles,” Guertin explained. “It houses something of reverence — life itself.”

Guertin’s career path led him to the feature film industry, business communications and newspaper publishing, but he found his calling in old, dilapidated barns. “I saw these old barns falling down and thought it would be a noteworthy thing to save them for a better purpose,” he said. That purpose? Turning barns into birdhouses. And the Heart and Eagle company took flight. The endeavor allows him to blend his passion for conservation and nature with his eye for architecture and design.

Guertin has purchased eight Michigan barns more than a century old. He finds planks with promise hidden among masses of termites and timbers. In this 21st century disposable age, he shuns the thought that most items are destined for the landfill. The barns he chooses have historical significance. One came from a thriving dairy farm, where a freshman Michigan Congressman by the name of Gerald R. Ford made good on a bet by milking cows there in 1948.

“We've saved a piece of history, and we're bringing a new generation of native birds into the world by repurposing that material,” Guertin said. See the current issue for the full story.