Not everyone finds a 700-pound pine stump in the woods and then crafts it into a dining table for 12—using only handtools, wooden pegs and a secret-recipe glue. And how many people look at crates of chipped soda pop bottles and see construction material for a family’s “Happy Home?”

Michigan is dotted with these types of passion projects, from quirky folk art sculptures to roadside attractions and elaborate art installations. Here are some that allow the public a peek at the creators and their concepts, commitment and craftsmanship.

Bottle House Museum

Finnish immigrant John Makinen found a use for the flawed glass that accumulated at his Northwestern Bottling Works in the tiny town of Kaleva. He developed a secret formula to cement 60,000 bottles, with their flat bottoms as the exterior walls, into the nine-room house he completed in 1941. Sadly, Makinen died before he and his family could make it theirs. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, it houses local history displays and murals depicting scenes from the Finnish epic poem “The Kalevala.”

Dinosaur Gardens

In Paul Domke’s world—40 forested acres near Ossineke and the Lake Huron shore— the theory of evolution and his devout Lutheran view of creation coexist. The self- taught artist sculpted the welcoming statue of Jesus and more than two dozen creatures of the “prehistoric zoo” he opened in 1935, and spent nearly 40 years developing. Jack- of-all-trades Domke used something he called “cement plastics” to sculpt the life- sized, detailed interpretations of a T. rex, Stegosaurus, Pteranodon, Apatosaurus and other dinosaurs that have defied extinction for 85 years.

MBAD African Bead Museum

Draped on strands and sorted into bottles and jars, new and antique glass, stone, wood and bone beads fill a Detroit row house-turned- gallery. Some of the beads are for sale and some, along with masks and other artifacts, are on display as part of the material culture museum created by Olayami Dabls, an artist who has studied and collected African beads since 1985. Dabls has built a center for connecting and understanding African identity and heritage that covers nearly a full city block. Its sculpture garden has 18 art installations made of reclaimed materials, including building facades transformed by colorful mosaics of broken mirrors, ceramics, tile and other salvaged items.

Levely’s Native American People

In the 1920s, artist, poet and entrepreneur Alfred H. Levely created concrete statues depicting Native Americans, and displayed them at his gasoline station to attract tourists. A friend of the artist, W.C. Wickham, acquired some of the painted figures, which eventually made their way to his son Albert in the Upper Peninsula. In 1988, Wickham donated the sculptures—six Native Americans and a bear—to the City of Gladstone, where they are at home in Van Cleve Park on the shore of Little Bay de Noc.

Monigal Miniatures Lumber Camp

When an on-the-job accident in 1931 left logger William Monigal unable to work, he spent eight years turning cedar telephone poles into a 2,000-piece depiction of wintertime life and work in a 1920’s logging camp. The hand-carved buildings, animals, equipment and workers filled a 40- by 80-foot diorama that toured nationally, including a stop at Madison Square Garden in New York. A section is on display at the Iron County Museum in Caspian.

The Shrine of the Pines

Tucked into the woods on the Pere Marquette River, just south of Baldwin, Raymond W. “Bud” Overholzer built a tribute to the forests lost to the logging industry, especially the white pine, Michigan’s state tree. From the 1930s until his death in 1952, Overholzer, a hunting and fishing guide and taxidermist, gathered fallen trees, stumps and roots used in his organic, ingenious furnishings. The 300-pound door to his hunting lodge, now the museum, easily pivots on a wooden ball to reveal more than 200 handcrafted pieces.

Pictured: MBAD African Bead Museum (upper left), The Shrine of the Pines (lower left), Dinosaur Gardens (right)


Kath Usitalo is the author of three books, “Secret Upper Peninsula: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure,” “100 Things to Do in the Upper Peninsula Before You Die” and “100 Things to Do on Mackinac Island Before You Die.”

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