By KATIE STEWART
The letter said a former University of Alabama football player’s entire family got into a terrible car accident. Not everyone survived.
How do you even begin to cope with that as a father and husband, especially at Christmas time? Homewood artist Thomas Andrew Findlay doesn’t have an answer when he receives a letter like this, but he does deliver an angelic ray of hope.
“When I hear these stories, I just hope my angels can bring some light back into their lives,” he said.
Starting five Christmases ago, Findlay has delivered angel paintings unannounced on strangers’ doorsteps. He wants people to know that they are loved, cared for and are continuously being thought about.
By Thanksgiving around 100 letters arrive addressed to Findlay that nominate someone who is going through, or has experienced, tremendous hardship within the year to receive a painting.
“The stories that are sent to me are so heart-wrenching,” Findlay said. “I’m just happy that the response is so great because then I am able to do something good for these people who are so deserving.”
It was Jim Smith at the Art Alley in Homewood that first suggested Findlay paint angels after many efforts to get other galleries to display his western paintings.
“I was literally a starving artist,” Findlay said. “I was going to Sam’s Club to eat the samples in order to save money and still eat. Smith was the one who gave me the shot. After he realized westerns weren’t working for me, he recommended the angels.”
The first angel he painted sold right off his easel to a friend who was going through a hard time. That’s when he realized his calling.
“It was such a great change. It fit well into my lifestyle too because my mom had always been a religious woman,” Findlay said. “She’s the one who inspires these paintings. She was a single mom who raised my brothers and myself. She was incredibly strong and leaned on the Lord. We went to church each Sunday, and I guess some of it stuck. These paintings are my way of giving back.”
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, Findlay heads to Asheville with his family with all the nomination letters printed out.
“We read through them, and they all give me their input,” he said. “I have the final say, but it helps to narrow down the list because each story is so worthy.”
He used to limit himself to 10 people, but over the years that has changed to more.
“There simply are just so many people going through hard times, it’s hard to choose,” he said.
The second week of December he mails out the angel paintings around Birmingham and all over the country, from California to Maine, complete with a letter he writes to each recipient explaining why they are receiving the gift.
The letters explain that he is an artist from Birmingham and wants nothing in return. He tells them someone nominated them, but never who.
“People need to know that their struggles are not forgotten.”
For more information on Findlay’s art, visit www.thomasandrewart.com. Findlay currently shows at Four Seasons Art Gallery and has a studio in downtown Homewood.