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Michigan Heritage Awards

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Photo of Willard "Bill" C. Finch
Photo by Pearl Yee Wong

Willard "Bill" C. Finch
2009 awardee, Stockbridge (Ingham County), Decorative painter

Bill Finch (b. 1944) grew up in a family of artisans who inspired and encouraged him to become an artist. Over several decades he became an accomplished woodcarver, furniture designer and builder, ornamental plasterer, homebuilder, sign painter, and graphic artist. His masterful skills and knowledge in these arenas drew the attention of the John Canning and Company, Ltd., the nation’s leading traditional decorative paint firm, contracted to restore the decorative painting in the Senate Chamber and surrounding rooms of the Michigan State Capitol. Bill trained under the Scotland-born Canning and was one of some forty artists who helped Canning’s firm in the restoration that extended from 1989 to 1992. Today, Bill is the master decorative painter and preservation specialist for the entire building.

Bill’s talent extends to a variety of traditional techniques no longer practiced. His skills include marbling, wood graining, gilding, trompe l’oeil, glazing, striping, and free-hand painting. Historically, these techniques were common in architectural interior decoration, applied by artists trained by apprenticeship. They have, however, fallen out of use as styles and building materials changed. Bill also repairs and replicates the fancy plaster designs on the walls, fashioning his own tools to match the original patterns. His charge extends to maintenance of floors, windows, chandeliers and other lighting, furnishings, the portrait collection, exterior stonework and more.

The Michigan State Capitol is a National Historic Landmark with unparalleled decorative painting, considered one of the finest examples of this art in the nation. Bill Finch is intensely aware of its history and the achievements of those artists whose work he strives to restore and maintain. He loves the building and its magnificent art and considers his work to be his legacy to the residents of the state.

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