The Flock of Finns, a colorful gathering of 28 fanciful metal bird sculptures based on original artworks by Louisville folk artist Marvin Finn, have returned to their permanent roosting place at Waterfront Park. The Flock have been on sabbatical in Oberlin, Ohio, since May 2014.
The Flock received a warm welcome from Mayor Greg Fischer and representatives of Metro’s Public Art Initiative, the Commission on Public Art (COPA), the Waterfront Development Corporation, and the public. In honor of the occasion, the first grade class from Lincoln Elementary Performing Arts School provided a short program, which included an enthusiastic rendition of the Chicken Dance. Steam Exchange provided its mobile printmaking station for attendees to make free commemorative posters of the event.
“Strong and creative public art is a key element in creating a vibrant, authentic city that people want to live in and visit and the Flock of Finns is one of our most loved pieces of public art,” Mayor Greg Fischer said. “We are happy to have a dedicated Commission on Public Art to advise for the caring of our public art collection that brings so much to our city, both culturally and economically.”
The Finns were created in 2001 as a public art initiative during the administration of Mayor Dave Armstrong. They were placed in various public venues around the city before finally landing in their permanent home at Waterfront Park in July 2002. By spring 2014, the colorful birds had begun to weather, with rust blisters and fading paint appearing in their once-bright plumage, and Metro and the Commission on Public Art (COPA) made the decision to have the sculptures professionally conserved at the McKay Lodge Fine Arts Conservation Laboratory in Ohio.
The conservation process included sandblasting the Flock down to their original steel surfaces, repriming them and then repainting them with a more durable paint that is easier to maintain and should last for 20 years. Conservators used digital photos and color matching to painstakingly replicate the original paint surface, ensuring that the original appearance of each bird was precisely preserved.
“We’re happy to have the Flock of Finns back where they belong, welcoming folks to Waterfront Park,” said WDC president David Karem. “They are a celebration of life and color – you can’t help but smile when you see them. The Finns are a true community treasure.”
The Flock honors the work of Marvin Finn, the late artist whose urban folk art is known and respected internationally. His brightly colored and patterned works reside in collections around the world. The large metal flock at Waterfront Park is made up of re-creations of Finn’s smaller hand-carved or saw-cut and painted wooden pieces. As part of the initiative, dozens of owners of Finn originals lent their pieces to Armstrong’s Art Advisory Committee, and enlargements made of half-inch thick steel were fabricated and painted by artist Melissa Wilson with the assistance of David Thrasher over a period of about six months.
Finn died on January 29, 2007, at the age of 89.
Marvin Finn, a familiar resident of Louisville’s Clarksdale public housing community, is an urban folk artist whose work is highly sought after by collectors of toys and contemporary folk art.
Finn’s work reflects a lifetime of seeing the wonder of ordinary things. The view from his kitchen window is the brick walls of the apartments across the street, but the view inside Finn’s mind is something else again. “I didn’t learn this out of no book. I had to leave school in the first grade and go to the field to work. But I had a hobby of drawing and painting, and I could whittle and build. And I had my imagination.”
“There were ten boys and two girls in my family, and most of them older than I was, so I didn’t have toys except I made them,” says Finn, recalling his childhood on a farm in Clio, Alabama. “I thought my old man was everything. When I was little I stood right up under him when he was whittling, and I learned it from him. I always tried to make my own toys when I was coming up as a kid. Anything that looked like a toy I would go into the woods and find me a tree and make it. But I remember a lot of Christmases when I never even seen me a toy.”
Marvin came to Louisville after the outbreak of World War II. He married in 1952, and continued to make toys for the enjoyment of his five children. His wife helped him, using an electric saw to cut out the toy shapes that he had drawn. When she died in 1966, Marvin was devastated, and kept making toys to help him through his grief. The older he gets the more he understands about the toys he makes. “Sometimes I wake up at one or two in the morning. I’d get up then, with something new in my mind. I get up with an idea, and I’ve already got a head start.”
Over the years he has created whole populations of crackling barnyard chickens, haughty roosters and powerful bulls drawn from his life on the family farm. He has built heavy cranes, shovels and bulldozers, like those he watched while working as a laborer in the Louisville dockyards.
“I think my work is pretty good as far as I’m concerned,” he says. “ I never did get to finish school, but I’m pretty sharp with my imagination. I just do what my mind tells me to do. Maybe the good Lord plants these things in my mind. When I leave here and meet the good Lord, I ain’t never going to quit making toys. That’s what my mind tells me. That’s heaven to me … making toys … and I look forward to it all the time.”