A Publication of WTVP

This rural Illinois artisan reclaims material from old Midwestern homesteads to create distinctive works of art.

Under the name Stone Creek Farm, Matthew Hinthorne of El Paso constructs unique, handcrafted works of folk art that reflect on the region’s rich farming heritage. Aside from the nails, Hinthorne’s “country chic” birdhouses are made exclusively from material salvaged from abandoned Midwestern homesteads. “The birdhouse collections,” he explained, “are my artistic representation of the settlers’ early American simplicity and dedication to the land.”

For several years in the late ‘90s, Hinthorne operated Stone Creek Farm as a full-time mail-order business, selling birdhouses to retailers across the country, and even internationally. In 2000, he started his own carpentry business, shifting his focus from housing for birds to custom homes and furniture for people. But last year, his love for small construction spurred Hinthorne to reopen Stone Creek Farm as a side business.

Hinthorne uses material purchased from local farmers and recovered from old farmhouses and barns before they’re burned or bulldozed to craft his works of art. His latest collection, entitled “The Farmstead,” was sourced from wood salvaged from a German family homestead in rural Minonk. “In this instance,” he said, “I dismantled much of the farmhouse before it was burned.”

Not working from any plans or models, Hinthorne applies his artistic vision as he works with materials, ensuring that each birdhouse is one of a kind. “It is always exciting to see how each piece ultimately turns out, as they all have their own sense of character and uniqueness.”
Hinthorne has also accepted commissions for birdhouses that mimic actual buildings—one couple asked him to build one that resembled the historic church in which they were married. His birdhouses range in size from the very small to as large as 42 inches by 25 inches, and can be used to accent indoor décor or outdoor flower gardens and porches.

For the past four decades, Gary Welch has made his living in the insurance industry, but his hobby has always been carpentry. A few years ago, this bird lover began using his skills to build houses for his feathered friends, including a 12-foot-tall dovecote—a large dwelling for housing doves—that sits in his own backyard.

With no interest in selling his birdhouses—this is just a hobby, after all—Welch donates most of his work to local charities to be auctioned off at fundraisers. And many of them go for some pretty good money.

Welch’s birdhouses are made entirely from wood, and like Hinthorne, he refrains from using preconceived designs. The detailed hand painting he applies to each birdhouse often ties into a fundraiser’s theme and makes his work stand out. Always building, Welch said any charities interested in auctioning off his custom birdhouses are welcome to contact him at (309) 692-1225. a&s