Welcome to the third year of an artistic brawl, a bitter competition between clay-smeared, crosstown rivals looking for bragging rights — the Bay Area’s biggest (and probably only) birdhouse battle.
In one corner is Hayward’s Mount Eden High School, boasting avian domiciles in the shape of a cello and a red-veined eyeball.
In the other corner, Hayward’s Tennyson High, with its own birdhouse bonanza, including a yawning cat with a Mohawk and a 2-foot-tall feather-ready triplex in the shape of a snowman.
Don’t let the Mohawk fool you. This is a serious competition. After two years, the series is tied.
“It’s like the Axe,” said Mount Eden art teacher Geoffrey Landreau, referring to the prize awarded to the winner of football’s Big Game between Cal and Stanford. “Tennyson has our trophy, and we want it back. It’s bragging rights for a whole year.”
The student entries, about 80 in all, will be displayed Jan. 6 and 7 at Hayward’s Sun Gallery, where visitors can bid on them in a silent auction. The art pieces are functional and created to accommodate birds looking for a home in the unforgiving Bay Area housing market.
The school with the most cash at the end of the auction wins — and the loser has to fill the winner’s trophy with candy, Landreau said.
While pride of victory is a big deal, the teachers from the two schools say the event, officially titled the Build a Better Birdhouse Battle, offers students an opportunity to display their work in a gallery, meet potential buyers and understand the competitive art world.
“The competition not only drives the enthusiasm, but the quality,” said Joe Mielke, the Tennyson ceramics teacher. “It’s a good way to teach about the real world — if you’re going to make it in the mean streets, (the work) better be better than the guy next door.”
Students, including those in advanced ceramics and 3-D design classes, have to study architecture as well as the habits of local birds, Landreau said.
While the pieces are meant to be bird-worthy, he said, Mount Eden’s eyeball entry had a lattice-like back that could mean a leaky time for inhabitants. The same artist made a second, more traditional birdhouse with a sturdy roof and multicolored siding.
Student Arnold Singh, 15, made a birdhouse that looks like a wishing well, with an acrylic glass top and metal wiring to hang it. He came up with the idea after he remembered a dream he had when he was about 8.
In the dream, he was swimming in the ocean trying to save someone, but couldn’t find them. Instead, he found the wishing well and climbed in to rest, but he was scared.
“And then I thought, ‘Wait, this is a wishing well and I can just wish myself home,’” he said. “Then I woke up.”
His birdhouse is the well where he rested, he said.
“When I make art, it’s going to be personal,” the sophomore said. “It’s going to come from the heart.”
But he doesn’t mind selling it: “I feel worse when I hold onto art,” Arnold said. “It feels like I’m holding something back.”
Victor Medina, 15, who created a blue dolphin birdhouse, doesn’t mind selling his, either. But his mom does.
“She was like, ‘I think you should keep it and give it to me,’” he said with a slight smile and roll of the eyes.
The birdhouses typically sell for $20 to $40, though some go for as much as $75. One woman bought seven last year. The students keep the proceeds, but they are encouraged to donate at least a portion to a charity.
Charissa Garcia doesn’t know how much her birdhouse will fetch. It’s an elaborate cello, with green leaves etched into the sides. It took her two weeks to build, including several tries to attach the fingerboard.
“I wanted to create something unique,” she said.
The students aren’t the only ones participating in the battle. The three teachers, including Mount Eden ceramics teacher Marie Butler, craft birdhouses and compete separately.
Mielke’s entry got the most money last year, and he plans on a repeat with this year’s entry — a flying saucer with an alien peeking out the top. The win would come with the same bragging rights, as well as side-bet bottles of wine.
The teachers’ real joy, they said, is watching students circulate through the professional gallery with other artists.
“It’s really fun to see all the stuff they produce,” Butler said, “and to produce something the public is willing to buy.”
Jill Tucker is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @jilltucker