A House in Harmony


A House in Harmony

Muffy Brandt Interview

Videography and Photography: Muffy Brandt

They say you can’t choose your family. But once in a while we come across forms of family that are so unique and unconventional.  Muffy Brandt, a Providence based artist who works in many means of expression, including moving images, sculpture, performance arts, and jewelry making, produced a short film titled “A House in Harmony” after spending a summer with Fritz and Marg Buschmann, a couple who chose to look after hundreds of parrots. The film poses the question of what family is and what it could be.

How did you meet the Bushmanns?
    I went to Central Maine a few summers ago and a friend invited us to his neighbor’s BBQ party. He described it as, “They have all this stuff in the yard, and it is really colorful. You can’t miss it.”  We got there after our friend had left, and there were all these older women all dressed in Hawaiian shirts, and they had the “It’s 5 o’clock Somewhere” sign, and offered us margaritas. They were all smart and interesting.  I asked, “I heard you have some birds.” They laughed hysterically and  took us inside and their house was full of birds, every room had birds.  So when I went to school in Maine next year, I got in touch with them to see if I could come back.  In the year between, they had doubled the size of their house and made a bunch of it just for birds because the husband had developed an extreme allergy to birds.  It was interesting to go because the year before the birds were in the kitchen and the living room and everywhere, but a year later, it was now a beautiful home with an amazing bird sanctuary right off of their kitchen.
Then you decided to make a film about them?
   Yes, I went up there two to three times over a week for a two and a half months.   They are wonderful. They actually bought a futon for me to sleep on because they thought the fold out bed was not good enough anymore. One week I came back and they had gotten a new bed for me.
How did they come to live with all the birds?
   They told me they were living in an apartment out of college and visiting a friend in the area every weekend, but eventually decided to live in the country.  They bought this house with all this land.  They come home all the time from work to find animals people had left in their yard. They got dogs, chickens, and they started to get animals to raise them.  They have two children and one of the children, now an adult, lives with them along with his daughter. So they have three generations under one roof along with the birds.  They now have three dogs, three cats, thirty chickens, sheep, they just take care of things all day long and they have full time jobs.
   The parrots can live to be between 50 and 90 years old.  A lot of them had ways that they are used to being taken care of by the previous owners.  So they try really hard to keep up the routines.  If the bird is used to playing a lot, they’d play with them.  If the bird had back-and-forth conversations that they like, they would have that with them. Also relationships between birds would emerge.  These two birds are now mated and want to be together, but the male bird had been owned by an old woman, and the female bird had been owned by an old man. When they talk, they mimic, so the female one talked with the old man’s voice and the male bird talked with the old woman’s voice.  You’d hear a muttering old couple and you look down and they are a couple of birds.  It is hilarious.  They are infinitely entertained by them and love them so much.
What do you think is their drive to go through all that for birds?
   Marg’s mother said that until she got these birds, she had never seen her daughter having this degree of enthusiasm for something.  It is funny because she has a well-rounded life. She has friends, she takes dance classes, gets along with people and is very social.  This is her passion that I don’t relate towards feelings about birds, but I relate towards the feeling about the things where you can’t control how excited you get about them.
What was the biggest inspiration for you?
   It was relatable how invested they were in something that they couldn’t help but do, but other people might not understand. That was really a similar feeling to the ways that I feel about the things that I feel passionate about, that might not make any sense to someone who doesn’t share that passion, but if I don’t do them, I’d be so sad.
Did it affect the way you think about family?
   Yes. The family was really interesting.  Their kids were still trying to figure out what they wanted to be. The family was deeply loving and supportive. They were mellow and brought me in like I was their family. They make living things feel good. They had this welcome, unselfconsciousness down to even how they’d treat me in their home.  It was really different from where I grew up where things were very formal.  I had people that were my neighbors for the whole time I was growing up whose home i didn’t feel as welcome in.
   The addition to the house they built was funded by the grandmother who decided to give them the money to do something that they were passionate about, rather than wait and will the money, and see them support each other on their paths without any judgement on what they decided to do. It was very beautiful because a lot of times families have so much pressure to do one thing or another.  It was the most accepting family I have ever been around.   


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