Plains wildlife artist a master of stone
Plains artist Bill Trull uses a power grinder to begin crafting an animal from stone. (Chuck Bandel/Valley Press)
Valley press | January 6, 2021 12:00 AM
Sometimes, the patterns of the stone leap out at Plains artist Bill Trull.
Most often, he has to lay them out on the floor and study the stones and their natural patterns before selecting the next one to be made into wildlife art.
A bend in the grain pattern or an anomaly in the surface is often the thing that catches his eyes as he ponders the stone's potential.
From there Trull, who operates under the title of “Wild Life in Stone,” begins shaping a pattern that will eventually become remarkable images of bear paws, fish, birds and other animals.
He has even crafted works of art to honor the passing of a loved one.
“I find a piece of rock, often granite or marble, and sometimes look at it for two or three days,” Trull said. “I look for something that might look like an eye or a rose in the patterns on the stones.”
Trull is quick to offer credit where credit is due.
“The guy who created the stones is the real artist,” he said in reference to the hand of a higher power. “I just try to take it from there and give the piece some character.”
The end result of his ability to see those patterns most might overlook is evident in the wide array of finished products throughout his home, backyard and work area.
One of his most recent creations is a “circle of life” formation featuring a number of fish and birds laid out in the circle formation that has been attributed to Native Americans who saw them as spiritual in nature.
For a large part of his life, Trull worked in the oil fields of Alaska, where he became exposed to native art. He spent 35 years working in the fields and on Alaska’s network of oil pipelines before moving to the Plains area years ago.
“I guess I’m an artistic person by nature,” Trull said. “I’ve always been doing some type of carving and working with the stones was just the next step.”
Ten years ago, a friend showed Trull some slabs of marble and granite. The natural beauty present in those stones prompted him to try carving what are two of the hardest forms of stone on the planet.
“I got my Dremmel (a special power tool which can be fitted with a number of different cutting attachments) and tried carving the marble and granite,” he said.
“I thought using a diamond cutting tool would work but it doesn’t,” he said. “The grinding tool with a cutting head is much better suited.”
Experience soon steered him toward the use of a power grinder tool that was able to help him shape the stones in the initial phases of crafting various animals and other things. He also creates similar wildlife art out of deer and elk antlers.
“I can pretty much do whatever a person wants,” he said. “I take a piece of what they want me to make and sketch out what the customer wants me to make. Those sketches then become my template.”
He also selects the piece or pieces of stone based on the patterns they show and their color. One of his favorite pieces is that of a Native American head, featuring dark stone for the hair, red or light red coloring for the face, and gray shaded stones for feathers.
“There really are some amazing patterns in these stones, you just have to look at them and for me they seem to jump right out,” Trull said. “Once I get the right stones, I trace the template on the surface using white-out (paper mistake correction fluid) and take it from there.”
The white-out allows for the lines of the pattern to be easily scraped off during the finishing stages of the piece. Trull said he first used a Sharpie to outline the pattern, but soon found out it is difficult to erase.
Different colored pieces are “welded” together with a glue made specifically for bonding stone.
“I really try to see the character of the stone,” he said, adding that he gets most of his material from granite and marble supply businesses. “Sometimes I have to buy the stones I like, but often the stone businesses will just give me the scraps they can’t use to get them out of the way.”
One form of his productions has been to create headstones or other memorial artifacts depending on what he is asked to do.
“I created a memorial to honor a person who really likes to fish,” he said. “The guy’s wife wanted something to remember what an avid fisherman he was. I came up with a trout with a hook in its mouth and used an old, dilapidated boat where I made a bent fishing rod and line leading to the hook.”
Along the way, Trull has learned many things about crafting stone, including as hard as granite or marble can be, they have their breaking point.
“It’s a constant learning experience”, he said, laughing about the process. “Along the way I have broken several pieces while I was working on them. Those pieces get smashed to bits.”
The key to it all, Trull said, is “feeling” what the rock has to offer and what it will and will not do.
His wife, Cindy, coats the finished artwork with a protective fluid to help preserve color and durability.
“I try to help with what I can, but he is the artist for sure,” she said.
“I’ve learned to feel, for example, if the rock is porous and what other characteristics it has”, he said. “But along the way I’ve also found something I really love to do.”
Trull said if anyone would like to see and order a piece of stone art he can be reached at 406-826-4630.
“People who see these pieces for the first time are usually pretty amazed that art can come from stone.”