From Renaissance re-enactments to zombie fests, costumes were Timothy Finkas' passion. And although pancreatic cancer has taken his life, it is those creative costumes -- and decorations and jokes -- for which he will always be remembered.
Mr. Finkas, a resident of Squirrel Hill, died Saturday at Canterbury Place in Lawrenceville. He was 54.
Mr. Finkas grew up in Southern California, where his mother taught him to sew at a young age.
"He was always inspired," said Stefanie Kramer, Mr. Finkas' sister. "He could always visualize what he wanted to make and how to do it."
His creative talents took over at California State University, Dominguez Hills, where Mr. Finkas switched from studying marine biology to immersing himself in the arts. Throughout his career, Mr. Finkas worked as a graphic designer for companies specializing in advertising, computer game design and educational toys.
But his expertise shone brightest when Mr. Finkas was creating a costume.
"He would always do historical investigations on the period he was costuming, even studying woodcuts to see what people were wearing," said Lisa Butterfield, Mr. Finkas' wife. The couple met at a science fiction convention as teens and were reunited in the Renaissance fair scene.
"Creativity was who Tim was," she said. "There were few moments when he was not designing something, either on the computer or with pen and paper."
Mr. Finkas' costuming skills became famous among re-enactors wherever he went, said longtime friend Wade Shows. Together the men frequented costume parties in Hollywood of a group called the Fools' Guild, made up of actors and historical re-enactors.
Once, Mr. Finkas wore two costumes at the same party: a firefighter looking for his dog, then the dog itself -- complete with a beer in his dog bowl.
"Going to one of these events with Tim was like being upgraded to first class," Mr. Shows said. "You were the coolest kid on the block. People were always amazed with his ability to come up with outfit after outfit."
When Mr. Finkas' wife obtained a job at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute in 2003, he brought his creative talents to Pennsylvania, where he made costumes for Renaissance fairs, Civil War re-enactments and zombie festivals.
In August 2011, Mr. Finkas was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
"It was an unwelcome dose of reality," said Ms. Butterfield, who has dedicated her life to cancer studies.
As his condition deteriorated, the re-enactment community continued to support Mr. Finkas on Facebook. Hundreds of friends commented on status updates regarding his health.
"They're reminiscing," Ms. Butterfield said. "Tim inspired them to be more creative. They'll always be following his lead."
Along with his wife and sister, Mr. Finkas is survived by his parents, Carol and David Finkas. A service to celebrate his life will take place in Southern California in October. Anyone who wishes to memorialize Mr. Finkas can do so by making a donation in his name to the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.
Jessica Contrera: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1458.