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How the Creation of Ceramic Birds Helps Create Magic in Downtown DSM

Jami Milne Tweet Week

July 13, 2023

Downtown Des Moines (DSM) is a flutter this week as Tweet Week is upon us. Now in its third year, 90 handcrafted birds will nestle into their temporary hiding spots. Whether you’ve been birdwatching for these creations each and every year, or you just happen to stumble upon a ceramic surprise while in town, Downtown DSM continues to be a place that offers a sense of awe and wonder — as long as you’re willing to just keep your eyes open.

While this is my first year hiding birds, it’s not my first time hiding ornaments. From the tradition of the Christmas pickle to last year’s miniature Mouse King, I’ve loved taking part in the game of creating for others to hide-and-seek, knowing that something I crafted with such care will go home for someone else to enjoy.

My first memory of ceramics was in my grandmother’s shop, a couple of large rooms of their old farmhouse. She created her ceramics using casting slip poured into ceramic molds, which would be fired and painted to perfection. From light-up Christmas trees to bunnies with twinkling eyes, sets of owl cookie jars to the occasional beer stein, I can still remember what it felt like to wander through those rooms, picking out a hand-poured ceramic to paint.


It would be roughly 30 years later before I’d get the aha to create with clay in this way. While I’ve made many things with my hands, the idea of seeking out vintage slip casting molds has given me a closeness to a grandmother I no longer have living. And while I can’t remember every stage of the magic she must have made, I’m doing my best to recreate it two generations later.

If you’re looking to create magic, Greater Des Moines (DSM) is an incredible place to create.

My studio at Mainframe allows me to continually test out new molds, mix up new variations of slip and most recently, thanks to an arts catalyst grant from the Iowa Arts Council/Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, fire work through my newly installed kiln*. (In fact, these 10 birds were the very first ceramic pieces I’ve ever fired!) But the most important part of Mainframe isn’t the studio space but the #DSMUSA artists within them — including each of the artists behind the birds of Tweet Week.

Mainframe Studios in Downtown DSM

Did you know Mainframe Studios is the largest nonprofit creative workspace in the nation?

These “cladies” as I’ve gotten to know them, each creating beautiful empires of clay in their own way, share not only their beautiful work with the world but are generous in the knowledge they offer to those artists, like me, that are eager to get their hands dirty making beautiful new things.

Tweet Week Offerings

For Tweet Week, I chose a vintage mold to create the tiniest of birds. Ten golden birds will sit within their nests until they’re sought or stumbled upon and scooped up. These birds aren’t meant to adorn your shelf or your tree, but instead, placed in your palm or your pocket. What I’ve found in my ever-evolving artistry, from the Creative Confessional (or perhaps this dsm article if that fits better) to porcelain armadillos, is that while the medium may change, the importance of holding meaning remains. And these birds are meant to be held. 

Ceramic Bird

Downtown Des Moines (DSM) activations pop up from time to time, and these events provide fun for the whole family! Check out Hide and Seek, Tweet Week and more across downtown.

Jami Milne

Jami Milne is a visual artist with work ranging from collage to ceramics and photography to installation. Jami lives in Des Moines with her husband Ben and two children Finn and Margaux and is the Creative Director for Ballet Des Moines.