Eccentric hobbyist or savvy entrepreneur? Traveling salesman, former deep-sea fisherman, and quirky birdhouse designer Mark Kresel qualifies as both. That's how he's caught the attention of big shots such as Donald Trump, Bruce Springsteen, and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace.
The Baltimore County resident finds the high-profilers on websites, spends months trying to learn something about them personally, then collects memorabilia that tells something of the celeb's claim to fame. Then, using that memorabilia, he designs and carves customized birdhouses and has his wooden masterpieces shipped to them. Granted, a strange pastime, but there's been something in it for Kresel.
"I send two birdhouses and ask them to keep one and return the other with their signatures. I figure if I make a goodwill gesture, they might do the same," he says.
So far there are 50 birdhouses hanging from his office ceiling. To name a few, there are the golden record design from Chubby Checker, a bunny design from Hugh Heffner, and a chili peppers birdhouse from, guess which band?
A former angler, Kresel got into the craft after tearing a rotator cuff reeling in a 900-pound shark. "I wouldn't give up and neither would he. After my injury, I had to find another hobby."
He had dabbled in woodcarving and also designs and sells textiles for the Baltimore company that employs him. Meshing his creative skills, he began whittling away.
To get the designs down pat, he finds uncopyrighted images that he blows up, using the enlargements as patterns. Kresel's first piece was a donut and coffee mug for the kids working at a former neighborhood haunt-a Manhattan Dunkin Donuts. Then came the tooth for his dentist and a barber pole for the chap who does his usual buzz. Soon he was envisioning ways to "reach for the stars."
Kresel travels the world on business and has made friends along the way, so some opportunities just fall in his lap.
"I made a wedding birdhouse for someone I do business with in South Africa whose son was getting married. Later my colleague e-mailed me asking, 'Why don't you build a birdhouse for my neighbor, Nelson Mandela?'"
"One of my agents in the UK was telling me he was adopted and learned his mother was a gypsy, so I built a gypsy wagon for him as a token," said Kresel.
And the 900-pound shark from his fishing days? Kresel came out on top there, too: The royal blue, stuffed bruiser hangs from the wall in Kresel's office. "Then I went and sent a birdhouse to my orthopedic surgeon," he says, "shaped like an arm."