The handiwork of Timothy D. Stahl is a cut above.
Stahl knows how to combine wood scraps, thrown-away items and yard sale "junque" to create birdhouse masterpieces for the home or backyard.
But they're not for sale.
Instead, Stahl's unusual creations are chanced off by a local charity. Each year, resulting ticket sales raise hundreds of dollars for the Carbon-Tamaqua Unit of the American Cancer Society.
Stahl and wife Fran, the former Frances DeSantis, are well known for supporting local charities and civic organizations. But Stahl's head-turning birdhouses have taken him to a new level, allowing the New England Valley resident to showcase his talent for the benefit of the ACS, where Stahl birdhouses have become a much-valued tradition.
Through ticket sales, a Stahl birdhouse can be worth anywhere from $500 to $800.
Interestingly, when the tradition began, it had nothing to do with birds. At the time, the Stahls were busy coordinating details of a busy fundraising event when Stahl got the idea to donate handcrafted miniature buildings.
"Back when the Cancer Society's auction was on television, Fran and I ran the last TV one and started the first Chinese auction. I used to make and donate doll houses for that," says Stahl.
Later, he settled on the idea of a birdhouse. Birdhouses have mass appeal. Not everyone can use a doll house, but everybody enjoys a birdhouse, including the birds.
So what makes Stahl's birdhouses special?
Well, for one, they're environmentally sound. Stahl, a Pottsville-area native, is an advocate for recycling. He commits himself to reusing objects that might otherwise be trashed. His green-friendly philosophy is incorporated into the birdhouse originals and gives each a special character.
For example, he'll use old buttons to create stained glass windows. Or maybe he'll use scrap pieces of wood for strength and reinforcement, and then use old marbles for adornment.
The cellar workshop inside his Miller Lane custom ranch home boasts of every conceivable tool and supply needed to concoct the next Taj Mahal birdhouse. Baubles, beads and chains. Brushes, screws and glue sticks. Paints, stains and polishes. Everything is within easy reach.
He doesn't use patterns. Instead, he relies on imagination. Stahl's inspiration comes from within and his approach guarantees that each finished product is one of a kind.
"I enjoy making them and enjoy giving them away even more," says Stahl.
If there's a downside, it's that Stahl's aviary masterpieces are almost too nice to place outdoors.
Each is a stunning work of art deserving of prominent display inside the home.
But if one chooses to place a Stahl birdhouse al fresco, be assured it's built heavy and durable - to the max. Actually, Stahl's birdhouses seem solid enough to meet the Pa. Uniform Construction Code and applicable OSHA standards.
Every Stahl birdhouse mirrors the talent of the artist himself
And if it takes a tough man to make a tender chicken, then it takes an even tougher man to build a birdhouse that's castle-strong. Stahl draws on the strength of his past, and he'll tell you that we, as individuals, are the sum total of our experiences.
Stahl overcame challenges of a difficult childhood. Money was tight and living conditions weren't the best. He was forced to move coast to coast with wandering parents, never really setting down roots.
"I attended nine schools in three states," he says.
He wasn't the favored, fair-haired child.
"I was always the nerd," he says, and, at times, was unfairly labeled "the black sheep." But even a black sheep can turn into a shining star.
Stahl worked on improving his situation despite obstacles.
He enlisted in the US Air Force and served his country in Vietnam. Then he worked toward a degree in sociology from Penn State University and settled back in his home state. There, he was hired by Pennsylvania Power & Light, spending the next 36 years as line and pole inspector.
He and Fran raised a family in the location they enjoy, eastern Schuylkill County. The Stahls are parents of son Timothy S., daughter Tonia Barron, and grandparents of five. Stahl is happy to point out that the kids still reside in the Tamaqua area.
Stahl credits the influence of maternal grandparents from the Schuylkill Haven area with instilling in him a sense of compassion and Christian values, assets that carried him through difficult times.
In some ways, his tough, hard-knock life is reflected in his demeanor. He holds strong opinions about politics, religion and the importance of hard work.
He speaks with honest conviction and doesn't mince words. Make no mistake, Stahl isn't afraid to speak his mind, no matter the topic. He tells it like it is. His discourse, in many ways, is a refreshing break from today's overblown culture of political correctness. And behind those strong words is a man with a heart of gold, a man whose words and deeds impart reverence for the best of qualities. He's an advocate for the solid morals and noble causes that have made our country strong.
Stahl carries a passion for what is right. That steadfast devotion has led him and Fran, the 2012 Tamaqua Citizenship Award recipient, to reach for higher goals and greater good.
At one point, the Stahls assisted in the rescue of seven Jews from persecution in the former Soviet Union by helping to finance their return to Jerusalem. Those opportunities arose in post-1990s USSR when the liberal government of Mikhail Gorbachev opened borders and allowed Jews to leave the country for Israel.
But you won't hear the Stahls boasting about such exploits. Instead, they prefer to remain humble and low-key about their work.
Holiday spirit exists in many different ways and sometimes in the oddest places.
For instance, Christmas spirit can manifest itself in the essential help given to a Jewish family trying to reach homeland Israel. Closer to home, it can be seen in the inspiring hands of a New England Valley craftsman building birdhouses to help others in their fight against cancer.
It's the Christmas spirit. It's all around us, really. We only need to open our eyes and see it.
The magic of Christmas is the spirit of giving.
It touches the soul and makes a world of difference.