Story and Video By: Sam Hickman and Reeves Cox.
Faith Birkhead is a shining jewel in Hamilton, GA, the crown city of Harris County. She and her husband Bill, who have been married since September 1965, moved to Hamilton thirty five years ago. They met in Philadelphia, where Faith graduated from the Moore College of Art with a BFA in Interior Design. She and Bill were married not long after, and she followed him to the University of Texas where he earned his Ph.D. in Zoology. While he was working on his fellowship, they moved to Cordoba, Argentina for two years where Faith worked as his lab assistant. They moved back to Austin and later spent a few years in North Carolina before Bill accepted a professorship at Columbus State University in Columbus, GA. They moved to Hamilton because the house was cheap, cost of living was lower, and the education system was good. She raised two children in Hamilton, continues to raise various animals and plants there, and is still an active member of the community in her retirement years.
Faith has always found a way to stay involved with art and share it with others. While at U-T in Austin, she ran the Student Union Arts and Crafts Center while taking post-graduate classes in jewelry and ceramics. When she moved to N.C., she spent time restoring an old farmhouse, and she was awarded a grant from the North Carolina Council for the Arts to establish an adult center where she taught variations of pottery and basketry. The center has been open and helping others find their creativity since 1976. When she and Bill moved to Hamilton in 1978, she began restoring the old house, into which they moved, herself. Since living here she has worked at Callaway Gardens as a display designer, as an architectural consultant for an interior design firm in Columbus, illustrated botanical work for two books, created her own jewelry line, taught art at Pacelli High School for nine years, began the Art Works Gallery in Pine Mountain, and continues to create and collect art from all over the country. She is also still active in the local art community. She is one of the Founders of the Joseph House Gallery of the Columbus Artists Guild, a member of the Board of the Creative Corridor, a member of the Chattahoochee Historic Society, and is a founder of the Southern Rivers Guild of Fine Artists and Craftsmen of which she was the first president and is now a board member.
When she moved into their house in Hamilton, Faith was curious about its origins, so she spent long hours with the city records combing documents and tomes to discover that it had been a plantation house built between 1850 and 1870. At one point it had been a boarding house for teachers at the school in Hamilton that used to be within sight of the house. Over the years she has poured herself into improving the house and the grounds. She has taken the floors back down to the beautiful original hardwood, converted the spacious attic into a second story, remodeled the kitchen, created large planters and flower beds in the back yard, built her own water feature to sustain year round indigenous plant life like the pitcher plant, built a free standing greenhouse, and an art studio off of the house. Faith has also used her architectural ability to give back to her community by designing remodeling efforts for businesses and other citizens of Hamilton. She even goes so far as acquiring permits and code inspections on her plans before she presents them to her clients so she knows they will be done right the first time.
Faith and Bill are both avid animal lovers. Because of Bill’s area of expertise and travels that revolved around it, they have had some interesting companions over the years. They currently have a dog named Coco and two house dwelling orange tabby cats. In the past, they have owned some slightly more familiar pets like horses, sheep, and a pig, but they have some slightly more exotic pets living with them now, as well. In a room off the kitchen that houses much of Bill’s records and research are two large glass cases that house an Argentine boa that their daughter found in her apartment and a ball python that Faith caught herself in Pine Mountain. In the green house they have a male and female pair of two types of tortoise, one from Argentina and one from Africa. They are kept nice and warm all year long by heating pads built into their roomy areas on the floor under the orchids. But they also have a slightly furrier friend that lives in the kitchen. Amid a rack of hanging pots and pans, there is a small cage that is home to a blind mouse that one of the tabbies caught a couple years ago. Faith took pity on the poor guy, and now he is just as much a part of the unique family and décor.
Both Faith and Bill originally hail from New England. They have lived and traveled all over the United States, spent time in the Europe, explored in Argentina, Africa, and the Bahamas together, and of all the places they’ve been, they settled in the deep south, in the quiet little town of Hamilton, in the middle of FDR’s promised land. When asked why they stayed here when they surely could have moved on to someplace bigger and better, more exotic, or even more familiar, Faith responded with, “because this is my town. I never thought I would want to live in the south, but I fell in love with it.” So whether she spent her time as an art teacher or an architect, a potter or a jewelry maker, a mother, an art collector, a research assistant, an amateur historian, fighting breast cancer or fighting small town politics as a City Councilwoman, it’s where they decided to raise their children, to build a life, to join a community, to put down roots. Hamilton is her home.
This story was produced with the support of
The Historic Chattahoochee Commission