Samuel Mirelez builds birdhouses like Michelangelo paints ceilings
Samuel Mirelez builds birdhouses like Michelangelo paints ceilings. Although most of the San Antonio resident's creations are replicas of famous buildings, each one is a masterpiece in miniature.
"If I had a favorite," Mirelez says, "it would have to be the Kremlin in Moscow. I love making those onion-shaped roofs." The Taj Mahal would be a close second.
Born and raised in Kenedy, Texas, Mirelez was the son of a watchmaker and jeweler. All his life he has worked with his hands. "My parents wanted me to become an artist," he says with a twinkle in his eye, "but I didn't want to starve, so I got a real job."
After a stint in the Air Force during the Korean War, Mirelez went to work as an instrument mechanic on the airplanes at Kelly Field. Twenty years ago he retired from his job of 38 years to make birdhouses in his backyard shop. "I had to have something to do," he says.
The birdhouses come in all sizes and shapes from the elaborate to the simple. He has built the Eiffel Tower, the Chrysler Building, all of the San Antonio missions several times, the UT Tower, and Texas A&M's administration building. He'll even make a replica of your house if you bring him pictures.
Of course, the more elaborate the structure, the longer it takes to build. The birdhouses range from a just a few inches tall with a single opening to 3- or 4-feet-tall purple-martin condominiums with 15 or more apartments. "The first Alamo I made I gave away because it was so ugly," he says.
The San Antonio missions are some of his biggest sellers, Mirelez says. He also specializes in castles that he copies from books or makes up from his imagination. Among his works are birdhouses made from coffeepots and plastic children's toys. Hundreds of the birdhouses cover the yard of his home.
Most of the buildings are made of prepainted, enamelized aluminum paneling that he gets from friends who install siding on houses and aluminum carports. "I started making the birdhouses out of wood," Mirelez says, "but they rotted away after a couple of years."
For a anniversary present to his wife, he used coffee cans to make a copy of the San Fernando Cathedral where they were married. "It rusted," he says very matter-of-factly. "Aluminum won't rust."
Mirelez says that his hobby started when he was a boy and carved toy airplanes out of wood. While he was working at Kelly Field, he made a few birdhouses for friends, and everyone liked them, so he kept experimenting. "It kind of got out of hand until I had to start selling them or giving them away," he said with a big toothless smile.
Mirelez caught the eye of Laura and George Bush while they were living in the Governor's Mansion, and of the Bushes have been big fans ever since. A picture on his living-room wall shows a much younger Sam Mirelez proudly standing in front of the governor's home in Austin. One year, the White House Christmas decorations included Mirelez's birdhouses of the San Antonio missions. The Bushes also have a birdhouse of the White House at their home in Crawford.
These days, Mirelez's once-stout body has been reduced by the treatment for his liver cancer. He might have lost some of his strength but not his sense of humor. "For journalists I charge double; everybody else gets a discount for cash," he says with a laugh. Watched over by his four children and his wife, Guadalupe, Mirelez is slowly getting his strength back. "I need to get back to work," he says. "My most popular models are sold out."
Samuel Mirelez's birdhouses are available in Austin at Yard Dog, 1510 S. Congress, and at Webb Gallery, 209 W. Franklin in Waxahachie. Because of his health issues, visitors to his house must be limited. To make arrangements for a visit, call 210/340-0809. "Tell people to come on by," Mirelez says. "As long as they buy a birdhouse," as his daughter Yvonne smiles and rolls her eyes.
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