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Leaders We Follow: Faith Williams & Brandon Finamore

Updated: Dec 1, 2020

If we want solutions for the climate crisis, we need to get personal. Our future depends on each of us clearly understanding who we are and our unique role on this planet. When we come from a place of introspection and mindfulness, we can apply ourselves to increasing awareness and putting forth solutions.

For artists Brandon Finamore and Faith Williams, their journeys have led them to present a joint gallery show at Edge Gallery in Lakewood, CO entitled At the Verge.

At the Verge shines a light onto four categories of pollinators: butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, and bats. Each artist is focusing on two, creating both aesthetic and functional pieces to increase awareness of the role of pollinators and give people tangible solutions for protecting them.

For the artists, this show feels different than any they’ve put on in the past. For one, their full-time teaching jobs have influenced the work, leading them to weave education into the presentation of their pieces. But the show also feels like a culmination of their career-long journeys to find their unique artistic voices and learn how to use them.

“When I first became really serious about my artistic practice,” Brandon said, “I was doing a lot of work that was inspired by and extremely similar to some other artists working in the fields I was interested in.” He spoke about an eye-opening moment when one of his pieces was compared to the exact artist whose work he admired most. He realized he’d been emulating someone else rather than looking deep within himself for his own inspiration. “That was a big turning point in my artistic career.”

I think that’s something we can all relate to, artist or not: realizing that we’re living up to someone else’s standards rather than figuring out our own.

Seizing a chance opportunity to visit a natural history museum with an art class, Brandon found himself looking at thousands of rare species of birds, their skins perfectly preserved. “I remember opening up a drawer of hummingbirds...there were about a thousand ruby-throated hummingbirds just flashing,” he recalled.

Quick side note: In natural history museums around the world, millions of specimens are stored in drawers and cabinets. But instead of sliding open a file cabinet drawer to find documents and folders, you may be face to face with parrot skins or pinned beetles or frog skeletons. Isn’t that wild?! Check out the nonfiction book The Feather Thief for a captivating story about this world.

When Brandon saw these drawers of specimens, something clicked. He saw the immense value these creatures bring to the scientific world, even after death. He wanted people to know that these collections existed and to understand their importance. Looking at those hummingbirds and their flashing feathers, he realized he could use his work to convey those ideas.

In that moment, he’d found his own unique inspiration. “I’ve not turned back since,” he said.

For At the Verge, Brandon is focusing on specimens that are extremely rare or already extinct. He aims to showcase the biodiversity of pollinators and inspire people to see them as a beautiful and essential piece of our lives. “Even something so small is such a strong support for everything else,” he said.

Faith brings this concept to the forefront with her work featuring bees and bats. “It’s important to understand that the pollinator population has major impacts on our life even if we can’t see it,” Faith said. “The easiest one to explain is the food system.”

Faith dove into research about how bees delicately hold up our precarious food industry with pollination. Colony collapse has created major issues with mass agriculture and seriously threatens the future of our food supply, but not many people are talking about it. Faith combined delicate drawings of bees suspended in resin and housed inside food containers, asking viewers to acknowledge their dependence on pollinators head-on.

Like Brandon, Faith’s work has long centered around the natural world for years. She combines drawing, painting, and mixed media to create work that is both physically and metaphorically layered.

In her previous show, For this Moment: Merging Pattern and Environment held at D’Art Gallery, Faith presented a piece inspired by the 25 bison that prevailed in 1902 after they were hunted nearly to extinction. The work included pencil drawings of the bison and geometric shapes layered over fabrics and encased in frames. Another piece featured drawings of humpback whales layered in resin. It was inspired by a scientific article explaining the critical role humpbacks play in promoting the flow of food and nutrients in several oceanic ecosystems. Like the creatures themselves, her pieces reveal more the longer they are examined.

Faith even built several custom “insect hotels,” structures with small tubes and spaces where insects can rest and seek shelter.

With At the Verge, Faith is continuing to create pieces that are both functional and aesthetic, this time serving bats. Though they get a bad rap or are forgotten about outside of Halloween, bats are crucial pollinators. They feed on fruits and flowers, and also keep insect species in check. “Bats are wildly important to population control for things like mosquitoes,” Faith said. “They eat their body weight in mosquitoes every night…. That’s a lot of mosquitoes.” It is. And we’re super grateful.

Faith is building functional bat habitats that provide a place for these creatures to sleep, breed, and raise their young. Small habitats can host more than 100 bats! These aren’t a new invention, but they’re not usually particularly attractive. Faith is adorning hers with paintings of night flowers to give the pieces aesthetic appeal and have people excited to install them in their gardens or yards.

Looking at Faith’s work, her identity as an artist feels completely clear. She didn’t get there by accident.

Faith speaks about moments earlier in her career when she pursued several different seeds of ideas because she wasn’t sure which one to focus on. “Sometimes it can feel like you’re digging blind,” she said. “You don’t really know what you’re looking for. I’m feeling good about the direction my work has taken in the last couple years but it’s taken a long time to get there.”

This show feels like a point of clarity for both artists, focusing on subject matter they care about while incorporating their passion for education and concern for the repercussions of climate change. They’ve invested time into doing careful research, fact-checking, and verifying sources. “That definitely takes a long time, but I see a lot of value,” Faith said. “We’re making sure that our artwork is spreading good information at the same time as it is raising important questions.”

While Brandon has been working with museum collections for the past several years, his current focus on extinct and endangered species is new. It’s been an educational experience. “It is incredible how many species we’ve lost or that are so on the brink,” he said. “That is something that I would have never known if I hadn’t embarked on this kind of research and artistic practice.” Sharing that information with the world is one of the motivations for At the Verge.

But their goal is not simply to educate to the point of depression. Both artists want to provide tangible solutions. “There’s not just one solution and one action that’s going to solve the pollinator problem,” Faith said. It’s up to all of us to find our own.

For instance, the artists hope people will be inspired to plant flowers that support pollinators in their gardens or outdoor spaces. They hope people will be motivated to do research into farming practices and get educated about the food they buy.

Brandon and Faith are also donating portions of their sales to the Pollinator Partnership and the Endangered Species Coalition, two organizations dedicated to preserving life both for us and the creatures around us.

I can’t wait to see what Brandon and Faith have been working on for the past few months. If you’re not up for in-person gatherings, there will be some opportunities to see the artwork online. You can find all the information on the show here, or you can follow Brandon and Faith on Instagram.

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