Giants & Pilgrims Documents the Coons Family in Music, Paintings and More

Tim and Betony Coons started Giants and Pilgrims with the help of their daughters.
Tim and Betony Coons started Giants and Pilgrims with the help of their daughters.
Courtesy of the Coons family.

Giants & Pilgrims is one part music, one part artwork, one part online community. But the easiest way to understand the project is to think of it as the Coons family scrapbook. "There were times in my life where I felt giant, I felt mountainous, I felt big," says Tim Coons. "Then there are times where you feel impoverished, and you're on a journey and you're just trying to get somewhere. So the idea is that we're all giants and pilgrims."

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Tim, a songwriter, works as the music director at a church in Greeley. His wife, Betony, is an artist and part-time art teacher. At the beginning of 2013, the couple decided to document the coming year through the lens of their family and their art. "What we decided to do is a pretty intensive project," says Tim. "She does twelve large paintings and I do twelve songs."

Although each person worked separately, there was communication all along the way. Their young daughters, Lucy and Harriet, got involved, too: Their scribbles are seen on the canvases, and they play Casio keyboard and "other toys" on the songs. The art also reflects the family in other ways: Lucy started having night terrors, and the song "Paint Your Tiger Gold" and the painting "Ferocious," featuring a little princess fighting a bear, were one way that Tim and Betony tried to help her through them.

Giants & Pilgrims Documents the Coons Family in Music, Paintings and More
"Ferocious" by Betony Coons.

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The project was always about more than music and painting, however. "We also wanted to do a publication of some sort," says Tim. "So we did a monthly almanac: 'Here are patterns for life. Once this season rolls around, what are we looking to do that's enjoyable and beautiful and awesome?'"

They created a website, where they posted prompts and activities related to monthly themes. They quickly found other ways to incorporate other people in their community, artistic and otherwise. "We hung these jars in a bird sanctuary in Greeley, and we put little writing prompts in them," says Tim. "So people would go on walks, and they would see these jars.... They would write stuff down [based on the prompts] and leave them in the jars." The jars are featured in Betony's "All The Lights" painting.

Writers and artists they know from Greeley started contributing each month, sending the couple things like poems or sketches. Musicians from bands including Autumn Film and A Boy and His Kite joined Tim in the studio. The Coonses raised over $8,000 in a Kickstarter campaign to document the year-long experience with a song, a painting, and a print almanac that corresponds to each month.

The entire project, under the umbrella title of "Almanac No. 1," was completed this past spring, but the creativity hasn't stopped. Tim says they plan to combine the twelve installments into some kind of book, as well. And the family is already in the planning stages of the next Giants & Pilgrims release, which was inspired by a drawing Lucy made of a stick-figure rabbit. "We're always entering these new fields where we feel underformed, yet we're always growing," says Tim.

If that sounds vague, it's by design: Just as they didn't know what they'd end up with when they started work on the Almanac project, they don't know exactly what the new project will look like. Tim does know he wants the next album to be more lo-fi, less produced. Other than that, he says, they'll just follow the Coons family mantra: "Life's messy, but it's the best life."

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