Mister Finch - the textile artist using everyday materials to bring stories and folklore to 'life'

As a child, Mister Finch dreamt of having his own museum, so to be able to have some of his wondrous creations on show at Leeds City Museum has been one more thing to tick off his bucket list.
Mister Finch with a selection of the exhibits from The Museum of Figments on display at Leeds City Museum. (Simon Hulme).Mister Finch with a selection of the exhibits from The Museum of Figments on display at Leeds City Museum. (Simon Hulme).
Mister Finch with a selection of the exhibits from The Museum of Figments on display at Leeds City Museum. (Simon Hulme).

The display is tied to his new book, The Museum of Figments. “Growing up, I always had my own museum, to curate and make everything in it… and that dream has come true. My new book acts as a tour guide for the exhibits and gives short stories and back information on what the museum holds,” says the Leeds-based textile artist.

Mister Finch (or Finch as he likes to be called) is known for his incredibly detailed creatures and spellbinding stories and is pleased with the museum’s display, which continues until the middle of this month.

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“I took down a suitcase of some of the Figments from the book and it went from there. I was really thrilled when they agreed to exhibit pieces and to have my own museum in an actual real museum, well it could not be more perfect.”

Mister Finch with one of his creations. (Simon Hulme).Mister Finch with one of his creations. (Simon Hulme).
Mister Finch with one of his creations. (Simon Hulme).

Finch’s book features images and short tales that draw on the museum’s own collection, taking readers on a journey round a secret museum. “I’ve been a huge fan of the museum since it opened. It’s been invaluable to me in so many ways for my work. Admittedly I do spend more time in the Life on Earth gallery with all the taxidermy and insects and the Collectors Cabinet with all the incredible artefacts,” he says.

“I think the world needs a little more magic, especially now, and Leeds City Museum has helped me accomplish that beautifully.”

Finch’s fascination with fairy stories and magical worlds stems from his childhood. “It’s something that I’ve just always loved and it just didn’t go away as I’ve gotten older. I’ve collected fairy tale books my whole life and have quite a big library of them from all over the world.”

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It’s one thing to be interested in the world of the fantastical, but it’s another to make a career from it. And yet for all his youthful interest in this it wasn’t a path he started out on initially.

Other examples of Finch's remarkable work. (Simon Hulme)Other examples of Finch's remarkable work. (Simon Hulme)
Other examples of Finch's remarkable work. (Simon Hulme)
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Meet the former Wallace and Gromit animator now working in the Yorkshire Dales

Born in Warrington, where his mum taught him to sew, he moved to Leeds in 1995 and worked in bars and restaurants. “I was working as a dancer and I’ve been here ever since,” he says.

He made jewellery before his experimental work with textiles and humanising animals took off. “I was initially making jewellery and grew frustrated having to rely on so many others to get my work seen, on models and have things photographed and I just wanted a complete change. I’ve always been able to sew and just really wanted to give it all a go and see what happened. I started off with basic insects and butterflies and went from there.”

The more he learned, the more his repertoire grew. “I’m completely self-taught and just read as much as I could and watched videos online and started from the ground up,” he says. “Initially I was more focused on getting my work seen and getting represented, but as time has gone on I’ve self-published children’s books and this has really changed my direction.”

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His work has certainly been “seen”, with exhibitions at venues as far ranging as the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, uber-cool store Anthropologie in Leeds and the Steven Kasher Gallery in New York. He has attracted a big online following, too.

“The internet has been a glorious thing for me and has allowed me to work, meet and connect with people from all over the world. I feel very lucky to have a big following and I send my work to Australia, Japan and the United States regularly.”

Finch draws inspiration from all manner of places and objects. “Ideas come from everywhere and it can literally be the most random things. With the Figments, I would look at small found objects and junk from car boot sales and imagine them to be other things, body parts, creatures and small beings.”

He uses a variety of fabrics and recycled material, including discarded wire, rich velvets, cross stitch samplers, sari trims and tablecloths. “I go hunting for things all the time and I’m out most weekends going to flea markets and charity shops. I much prefer to use something old and used.

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“I’m very lucky now that I get offered some of the most luxurious fabrics and stunning velvet but I don’t really enjoy buying rolls of fabric – it just doesn’t do anything for me.

“An old coat with worn-out sleeves with pockets and vintage buttons has more magic than anything new.

“A big favourite of mine is using old clothes and I think it makes things feel more genuine. Often I’m after just small quantities of things and clothing gives me that – you have linings, pockets, labels and it’s always a joy to find someone’s name on something. I try to put it all back into my work.”

The length of time a project takes varies. “Something small can take a few days, but bigger projects have taken months. I often create the furniture and cabinets for my shows so I’m often going back and forth on lots of things when they get bigger.

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“On average, I try to get a few pieces done each week. I teach workshops when I can and when time allows. In the past in groups, we’ve made moths and rabbits, pumpkins and Christmas decorations.”

Ultimately, Finch hopes people find some element of wonderment in his work. “I’m creating books for children that cross over and are bought by adults, too. So I want to create worlds that are happening right now all around you. Something magical. I try to create a narrative that is easy for a child to understand and easily mimicked with play.

“This new book, whilst filled to the brim with images and stories, also has areas that I would love a child to write in and extend the story themselves.”

And this taps into why he loves what he does for a living. “I’m a bit of a loner and being able to hide away and sew and create is a wonderful thing. It suits me perfectly. Having an excited child come to a book signing to meet me with a picture they have drawn of me, with an enormous beard... trumps everything.”

The Museum of Figments is out now in paperback, £20, http://www.mister-finch.com/.

Mister Finch’s display continues at Leeds City Museum until January 15.

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