HOPKINS, Mich. — If you’ve ever driven on County Road 42 in Allegan County through Hopkins, you more than likely passed by the house of Bill Church.
Bill is three-quarters Native American and has traced his roots all the way back to the second sailing of the Mayflower with one of his parents. His heritage is part of the Ottawa Indians below the Grand River. He’s a local historian, fabulous storyteller, and cares deeply for the land, natural resources, and how to use and respect them.
About 12 years ago Bill learned how to carve animals, figures, signs and other things out of a slab of wood with a chainsaw. When tribes lived on American soil long before white colonialists arrived, they lived off the land and knew how to work well with their hands building things and formulating all kinds of tools. In the early settler days, it was the Native Americans that showed early arrivals to this land how to plant, harvest, and be successful in an unfamiliar place. That history, heritage, and knowledge has been transformed with Bill Church as he shares stories and carves.
Bill has carved everything from birds, eagles, hawks, fish, moose, Civil War soldiers, golfers, Native Americans and many items in between. One of his favorite things to carve is a crane. It’s a bird with a long beak and neck that tapers in to a large rounded body and eventually down to the feet. Not only does he carve from small chunks of wood, but several of his carvings have been from pieces several hundred pounds in weight, and some have been carved on stumps still in the ground.
“I use five basic things” Bill says. “You’ve got an off-the-rack chainsaw, nothing special. A grinder, some files, a torch, and some sandpaper.” His wife and son usually apply two coats of marine grade paint (unless he leaves a natural finish) to protect the carving left in the elements for years to come. While he’s not technically in business, he carves at will, places the finished products on his front lawn (along route 42 or Main Street in town), and sells them when someone stops and wants to buy.
He does commissioned work for those that specifically ask for a certain something. Case in point, he recently received a several hundred pound piece of red cedar shipped all the way from Arkansas. It will eventually be carved in to a full-size bear holding a football, and standing like a quarterback ready to release the long pass. It’s being made for a Chicago Bears fan.
If you’d like more information on Bill Church feel free to call him directly at 269-512-2864. His address is 205 East Main Street (across from the library) in Hopkins.