By the time he moved back to the United States after more than a decade in Germany, he had collected menstrual products and advertisements from around the world. But it was still just a hobby—something he kept secret from his friends and family, and especially his colleagues at the National Defense University, Washington, DC's institution for high-level national security training, where he was now working as a graphic designer. It was a boring job, one of those punch-in, punch-out, retire-and-collect-your-pension kinds of gigs—which only gave him more time to work on his advertisement collection. He started visiting the Library of Congress to do research on the history of menstruation, and soon enough, his collection had ballooned to include historical information, cross-cultural comparisons, even menstrual products.
Elissa Stein, who would later go on to write Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation, remembers visiting the museum with her husband. When they realized the museum was inside Finley's house, she told her husband, "I don't know if I feel comfortable about this." But before they could turn around, there was Finley, standing outside of the house and ushering them inside. So Stein and her husband parked the car and followed Harry through a door near the side of the house, down the stairs, and into the basement.
"He's very proprietary about his stuff," says Stein. When she started putting together Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation, she immediately thought of him and his collection. "I talked to Harry and I said, 'I would love to feature your collection [in my book].' He said he wasn't interested."This floored her. Finley had always talked about how he wanted more people to see his collection, and here she was offering him a chance for the world to see it—and he said no?
It's difficult to understand why the collection meant so much to Finley, especially because he can't quite articulate it himself. He was fascinated by the topic, sure, and he devoted many years to collecting these things—but it's clear that the museum represented something beyond a pure academic interest. On the website, he justifies his passion by saying he wanted "to do something worthwhile" and that he liked the subject. But that doesn't feel like the whole story.
On The Creators Project: An Artists Explore the Raw Beauty of Menstrual Blood