With the first day of spring, a Westport ritual of the season also reappeared with the arrival of this year's flock of creative birdhouses and related art for the annual Project Return Birdhouse Stroll.
Hundreds of strollers made their way Thursday evening along Main Street, a portion of Post Road and into Playhouse Square where about 60 storefronts served as museum-quality display windows for the 132 birdhouses, paintings, sculptures and other donated art, all of which will be auctioned at the 19th annual Project Return Birdhouse Auction Gala on April 5 at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton.
The birdhouses symbolize the mission of Project Return, the Westport-based agency that offers a refuge for adolescent girls in crisis to rebuild their lives.
This year's Birdhouse Stroll street "gallery" features the work of many returning artists. Some, like Miggs Burroughs of Westport, have been involved in the fundraising effort for years, and newcomers like Vesna Herman, an architect from Westport, whose "Prism House" birdhouse is on display at Tiffany & Co.
"It's interesting when the bird is your client. I enjoyed it," Herman said.
Artist Wendy Nylen of Bridgeport, owner of Picture This gallery in Westport, created a birdhouse inspired by seemingly disparate themes -- the work of Dutch painter Mondrian and former teen idol David Cassidy singing "Come on Get Happy." She painted it with bright primary colors and gave it a square entry hole rather than the traditional round.
"People will recognize it as Mondrian," said Nylen, "but also as the Partridge family bus so it's called The Partridge Family House," a reference to the TV sitcom that starred Cassidy.
"It's also fun to window shop," said Nylen, who has created birdhouses for the last five years.
"It's amazing. It has so much life to it. Artists keep coming up with ideas. No two birdhouses are alike," said Susie Basler, executive director of Project Return.
Susie Shuck of Westport, a former Project Return board member, said the Birdhouse Stroll offers a fun way to get outside after a long winter and support a good cause. "It's all for the girls and the house. The artists dedicate themselves to this every year," she said.
Viewers had their own favorites but there were a few stand-outs that became the topic of conversation from one end of Main Street to the other. "There are a couple of really good ones," said Aimee Dolan of Westport, who came out with her children to support her father Pete Spengler of Westport and his first participation in the event.
Eric Ringer, 10, of Westport, a first-time viewer, said he appreciated the creativity and use of color. His sister Kristiana Ringer, 14, said it was not only the art work that was clever but also the marketing strategy of downtown merchants to link up with Project Return.
"It's a good way to get people downtown," she said.
"It's fun to see the creativity and whimsical designs of all the birdhouses. You wonder how the artists come up with all the ideas," said Sue Ringer, Eric and Kristiana's mother.
Online auction bidding for the birdhouses -- on display through April 4 -- began March 21. To bid, go to www.projectreturnct.org and click on "online bidding." Tickets for the auction gala can also be purchased at that website. For more information, call 203-291-6402.