Encyclopedia of American Folk Art

By Lee Kogan; Gerard C.Wertkin | Go to book overview


fits modern society's conceptions of a folk artist more neatly than many nineteenth-century amateurs so labeled. The painter was born, raised, and buried in the same small community; not even marriage took her more than ten miles from her childhood home. Although aware of period styles and conventions, she developed personal solutions to artistic problems and showed little reliance on academic sources. These facts and the number of works executed for friends and neighbors suggest that Finch enjoyed a longstanding closely-knit support system, one that not only met her social needs but also encouraged her interest in artistic endeavors.

The artist was born in Westport, Massachusetts on November 20, 1804, the second of seven children of Benjamin Devol Jr. and Elizabeth Rounds. Nothing is known of her schooling. An 1831 family register, done for neighbor Silas Kirby, establishes that Finch was engaged in artwork prior to her marriage. On November 8, 1832, she married William T. Finch of nearby New Bedford.

Half- and full-length portraits (two of the former being memorials) as well as two serial illustrations of the story of the Prodigal Son constitute the remainder of Finch's known body of work in watercolor. Evidence of her creativity and willingness to experiment can be found in the original verses that she added to some likenesses. Differences between her two depictions of the Prodigal Son reflect her efforts to improve the clarity and cohesiveness of the overall composition and its correlation between text and imagery. Despite the naïveté of their execution, her profile portraits are distinguished by individualistic details, such as Abner Davis's patterned stockings, dotted waistcoat, and even small hairs on the back of his hand. Finally, although pictorial motifs sometimes recur in Finch's works, she avoided slavish repetition. For instance, spread eagles appear on three of her pieces, yet each is distinctly posed. Decorative qualities were important to Finch. Even her plainest portraits, such as her full-length likenesses of Abner and Betsy Allen Davis, incorporate the unusual compositional device of plinths, which are set beneath the figures and artfully twined with vines.

Ruby and William T. Finch had one daughter, Judith, who married Otis Pierce, a mason. When Finch died of a tumor on July 7, 1866, in New Bedford, she had been a widow for an undetermined length of time and appears to have been living with her elderly widowed mother.

See also Painting, American Folk.

Rumford, Beatrix T., ed. American Folk Portraits: Paintings and Drawings from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center. Boston, 1981.
--. American Folk Paintings: Paintings and Drawings Other Than Portraits from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center. Boston, 1988.
Walters, Donald R. "Out of Anonymity: Ruby Devol Finch (1804-1866)." Maine Antique Digest (June 1978): 1C-4C.



was born on a small farm in northeast Alabama, and as an adult lived in adjoining northwest Georgia. He left school after finishing the sixth grade, and at age sixteen began a long career as a traveling Baptist preacher. In the late 1940s, he created an environment of miniature buildings and religious monuments, as well as the beginnings of a collection he called Inventions of Mankind, in the yard of his house in Trion, Georgia. In 1961, when he moved with his family to nearby Pennville, he brought some of those things with him, and they formed the nucleus of an art environment he initially called Plant Farm Museum. He commenced work on the latter project almost immediately, in response to a vision in which he claimed that a fifteen-foot-tall man admonished him to "get on the altar."

After retiring from formal church ministry, in 1965, Finster supported his family by repairing bicycles and lawn mowers, and devoted any spare time to his ambitious backyard project. He had spent fifteen years developing his Paradise Garden, as it became known, by the time it began to attract widespread attention. Then, in 1976, another vision, in the form of a tiny human face that spoke to him from a paint-smudge on his fingertip, prompted him to start painting "sacred art."

Finster consistently tended to fill any available space in his paintings, surrounding the highly varied imagery with handwritten Bible quotes, opinionated messages, and startling accounts of visions in which he claimed to travel to "other worlds beyond the light of the sun." These early "sermons in paint," as he called them, were fairly small works in enamel on plywood, sheet metal, or Masonite. Later, he began to make sculpture and to experiment with other materials, including mirror glass, Plexiglas beads, and wire. Invariably urgent in tone and intensely overwrought, his works deal with themes of history, biography, autobiography, divine power, worldly calamity, sin, salvation, steadfast faith, heavenly reward, and extra-terrestrial life. By the time he died of heart failure, he


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Encyclopedia of American Folk Art
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Entries vii
  • Introduction xxvii
  • A 1
  • B 35
  • Bibliography 75
  • C 79
  • Bibliography 107
  • Bibliography 111
  • D 113
  • Bibliography 144
  • E 145
  • Bibliography 153
  • F 161
  • Bibliography 166
  • Bibliography 171
  • G 189
  • Bibliography 203
  • Bibliography 210
  • H 217
  • Bibliography 225
  • Bibliography 235
  • I 247
  • Bibliography 249
  • J 251
  • K 269
  • Bibliography 273
  • L 279
  • M 293
  • Bibliography 309
  • Bibliography 311
  • N 337
  • O 349
  • P 355
  • Bibliography 388
  • Q 411
  • R 421
  • Bibliography 433
  • S 447
  • Bibliography 450
  • Bibliography 472
  • Bibliography 484
  • Bibliography 490
  • Bibliography 494
  • Bibliography 496
  • T 509
  • U 527
  • V 529
  • W 539
  • Bibliography 540
  • Bibliography 546
  • Bibliography 556
  • Y 561
  • Index 569


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