After wife passed, birdhouse construction gave Asheville man motivation to live

Joe Wakefield makes birdhouses out of his unit in the Vanderbilt Apartment building in Downtown Asheville. (Photo credit: John Le, WLOS)

Joe Wakefield brings his own sort of affordable housing to the land of sky.

He's known simply as "The Birdhouse Man," and his motivation to build gives him the motivation to live.

"The way to live a life is to produce something."

At 92, Joe's a kid at heart, with a grown-up philosophy.

"When I was ten years old, dad gave me a shop and tools and told me to go to work," he recalls. "Evidently my work was very good for a little child."

In the heart of downtown Asheville, the ninth floor of the Vanderbilt Apartment building provides a rare window seat to something soothing.

Joe Wakefield appreciates the daily audio of church bells and the whipping wind that sort of serenades him.

"There's the wind making the prettiest little tune for me," he explained. "That's mother nature singing to me."

"This is now getting to be the color." he said, brushing a watermelon shade of paint onto his latest passion project.

"See that little birdhouse on top. Isn't that cute!" he said. "Mama's gonna like that. Mama bird and the little ones."

"Nature gives me the inspiration," he told us. "They're birds, they fly, they're free."

Everyone who gets a Wakefield original gets more than they bargained for.

"I've never sold a birdhouse," he explained. "I give them away. It's my way of paying back the joy of living."

Folks give him just enough cash to cover the cost of wood.

He made a subdivision of city landmarks on display at the Asheville Downtown Association office. They were painted by Joe Minicozzi, part of a collaboration referred to as "Joe Squared."

The root of his inspiration is somewhere on his wall of photos.

"Family, friends, what I did," he says, pointing to a lifetime of images beside his bed.

"Your Facebook wall," I pointed out. "Yeah that's it," he said knowingly.

"Are you on Facebook?" I wondered. "No," he replied. "I don't have a television."

"Here's Edith," he said, pointing to his late wife. "I was married to her 52 years!"

After Edith died in the late '90s, Joe found solace by clinging to his craft.

"I don't know that it's a reason for living, but it does make me happy," he said.

Like the wind that sings to him, Joe's creativity is like a force of nature.

"Keep working," he said in his shop. "Isn't that a pretty color? "

"I need to produce something every day," he says with pride.

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