Anyone who has driven down U.S. 43 between Eutaw and Demopolis can’t miss Jim Bird’s creations.
Made from hay, scrap metal and “pretty well junk” as Bird describes it, he created the first pieces more than 30 years ago as a surprise for his wife, Elizabeth.
Lib, as she was known to family and friends, had gone out of town to help following the birth of a grandchild. Bird had stayed behind to work on his farm near Forkland and had the idea to make a caterpillar and spider out of some lopsided hay he had in a field.
“I had hay bales that weren’t right. They were odd balls, and I had pushed them to the side,” Bird said. “I decided while she was gone I would take some of that and make some kind of structure. That’s how it got started.”
Lib loved the creations and the two soon started adding more and more pieces over the years – a helicopter complete with a spinning rotor, a monster car with bales as wheels and a sailboat on waves of hay. Favorite children’s characters like Big Bird and Snoopy are also mixed in with a couple dozen other pieces.
Bird tried to keep the cost of every creation less than $5 using whatever hay and metal he had around his place.
“When you look at it, it’s pretty well junk,” Bird said. “You are supposed to look at it going down the road at 50 miles per hour. You’re not supposed to be scrutinizing it.”
One exception to the $5 rule is a 32-foot-tall Tin Man that towers over the field. The cost of the silver paint alone was $40.
“I had to buy a gallon of aluminum paint or two. It ran it up to about $40 so I’ve got about $45 in that one,” Bird said.
The rest of the Tin Man is made from an old bathtub, five-gallon drums, a fuel tanker and a fertilizer spreader.
“I had a place out there people used to bring all their old stuff they didn’t want and scatter it out,” Bird said. “There ain’t no art to it. It’s just putting stuff together.”
While Lib would offer suggestions for new pieces, Bird was the one who would bring the ideas to life with some help from family and friends.
One of the newer pieces is an alligator made of hickory bark. Bird’s youngest son, Archie, was happy to provide the empty beer cans used for the creature’s teeth.
Some of the largest pieces had to be lifted into place using a tractor and boom truck. Bird would build the pieces flat on the ground before standing them up vertically. Bird added additional braces after the Tin Man fell over in heavy winds.
Over the years, plenty of people stopped to admire the art. Bird remembered a doctor from Mississippi who stopped with his wife and assisted with one creation. The doctor’s wife happened to be a florist, and Bird was working on a flower pot piece at the time.
The Birds have hosted people from all over the United States and as far away as Japan.
“I’ve met a lot of interesting people who have stopped to look at it,” Bird said. “Some come to the house just to see what kind of character does that stuff. It’s amazing.”
At 91, Bird isn’t adding much to the collection nowadays. The family is more focused on maintaining what’s already on the property. The hay must be replaced every two to three years, and more often if it’s off the ground.
“Right now, I just try to keep it together. A lot of it has fallen down,” Bird said.
Archie has organized a “Hay Day” in May the past two years, during which 30 people came and helped replace bales, touch up paint and make repairs. Only metal or plastic is painted because paint won’t stay on the hay for long.
“We did one two years ago, and we changed out a lot of hay bales,” Archie said. “Then this last year, we had a guy from Tuscaloosa come down and paint the Tin Man. Someone donated the paint, so we didn’t have to buy the paint.”
This past year, the volunteers added the latest piece on the farm depicting U.S. President Donald J. Trump. Those who come to help are mostly family and friends, but a few are just people who love the art and want to see it continue to delight those who drive down Demopolis Highway.
“They are really good, too. They come up with all kinds of suggestions. They are the ones that built the Trump,” Bird said.
Bird has battled his fair share of adversity in recent years. Lib died in 2015 after 64 years of marriage. A short time after her death, the couple’s house burned.
“Jim’s a resilient guy. His house completely burned down a couple of years ago. He lost pretty much everything he had, including all sorts of pictures of Lib and the family. Paintings and portraits. Yet, he keeps going,” said the Rev. John David Barnes, who is a family friend and pastor of Trinity Episcopal Church in Demopolis, where the Bird family worships. “Instead of quitting or running away from faith, he is more faithful than ever.”
Bird stays active by going into nearby Demopolis each day to work out at the wellness center at the local hospital.
“It’s a nice group of people there. I visit and do all these exercises on all these machines. I don’t know what they do,” Bird said.
Bird continues to tinker around his property and with his art, which grew beyond anything he imagined when he decided to surprise Lib so long ago. The towering Tin Man is complete with a red heart that simply reads, “Jim loves Lib.”