This One’s for the Birds

Recycled bottles become decorative spinning birdcages in the hands of a 1956 alumnus

By Rita Buettner  |  Photos by Malia Leary

Martin Fairbank, ’56, will tell you it takes about five hours to make a spinning birdcage from a recycled bottle.

He’ll explain that his wife hand-paints each cage with three coats of acrylic paint.

He’ll even admit that he’s gone dumpster diving to find recycled bottles to use.

Just don’t ask how he gets the bird figurine inside the cage. That’s his secret, he says.

Still, he’ll be happy to fill you in on the rest of the process.

“We usually make them while we’re sitting and watching a ball game,” says Fairbank, who lives in Lutherville, Md., with his wife, Betty. “It takes as much time to lay out the pattern and cut them out as it takes my wife to paint them.”

Then Fairbank makes sure the cages spin. If they don’t spin, no one wants one. But if the wind catches them just right when he displays them out of the back of his minivan at flea markets and yard sales, customers are drawn to them.

“It doesn’t take any air at all to make them spin,” he says. “If they start spinning, then they’re selling like hotcakes.”

And once one customer stops to buy one—usually for about $20—other people realize they have to buy one too. One day he sold 260 of the cages in less than an hour.

Who buys them? “Anybody and everybody,” he says. “They’re a gift for somebody who has everything. It’s a low-maintenance birdcage. You don’t have to clean them. You don’t have to listen to it squawking.”

Fairbank probably would never have thought of the idea if his daughter-in-law hadn’t picked up “a very crude one done with magic markers” at a yard sale in Florida. She said she knew he could make a better one. And he has—several times over.

“I just thought it was something unique,” he says. He has sold them in shops in Berlin, Md., and Rehoboth, Del. The prices typically range from $15 to $25. “If I ask $15, I’ll sell them all.”

Sometimes he can tell his fellow flea market salespeople are getting frustrated watching him sell. “You can tell they’re thinking, ‘Here’s this guy with this stupid idea, and he’s selling them, and we’re not making diddly.”

Still, Fairbank, whose father, Frank Fairbank, ’27, taught economics at Loyola for years and started the education department, enjoys his pastime—for the most part.

“I’ll tell you what takes a long time is getting the damn labels off. Try taking the label off a two-liter bottle.”

For more information, contact Marty Fairbank at 410-252-3546.

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