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A lifelong painter finds his artistic muse on Vashon
A steep, winding driveway on Vashon’s west side leads to a beach house where one artist is starting to make a local name for himself.
Bill “Popi” Champion, a native Californian who moved to Vashon seven years ago after retiring from a long career in real estate, is finally getting a chance to be a full-time artist, creating colorful acrylic paintings and rustic wooden furniture. He’s shown his paintings as a guest of the Barnworks collective, and several examples of his rustic, Adirondacks-inspired furniture are currently on sale at Blooms & Things.
It’s been a long journey for the 69-year-old artist.
“He was born with all his talent,” said his wife Sandy Champion, who along with Bill, recently welcomed a visitor to their spacious home, adorned with Bill’s work as well as an extensive collection of other American rustic furniture.
As the couple showed off a scrapbook filled with photos of dozens of Bill’s paintings, they took turns explaining his artistic path.
Many years ago, they said, Champion signed up for fine art classes at the University of Southern California but had to switch his major to business for an unusual reason — he had a full scholarship to play football at the school, and his afternoon practices conflicted his art classes.
But Bill kept painting anyway — a hobby he continued to make time for after graduating and marrying Sandy in 1965. He kept painting while the couple raised two children and pursued careers. He kept painting despite 15 knee and back surgeries and a hip replacement — the result of painful football injuries.
“I always liked the paintings of LeRoy Neiman,” he said, adding that he had hoped that someday he’d be able to study with the famous artist. Instead, he created paintings clearly inspired by Neiman’s — large, colorful decorative works showing athletes in motion. Other works by Champion are filled with sunny maritime themes. Another interest, perhaps growing out of his real estate career, was painting detailed, dreamy portraits of houses.
In his retirement years on Vashon, his interests have expanded to making furniture in his workshop.
“I’m completely self-taught in terms of furniture making,” he said, as he showed off his garage workshop, stuffed with old dressers he planned to repurpose, and raw material for new benches and other pieces he will create from scratch.
Carol Ahlfors, the owner of Blooms & Things, said that Bill’s work was perfect for her shop.
“People want to shop locally, and in Bill’s case, Vashonites are loving the way he reuses and recycles,” Ahlfors said.
For her part, Sandy Champion credits Vashon for feeding her husband’s creative muse.
“He had to put aside his art to go to work,” she said. “But Vashon is an artists’ colony — a place where you can go back and pick up where you left off.”