Howard Finster (December 2,
1916 – October 22, 2001) was a Baptist Reverend and artist from
Paradise Gardens in Summerville, GA,
built by Finster.
He claimed to be inspired by God to spread
the gospel through the environment of Paradise Garden
over 46,000 pieces of art. His creations overlap folk art
, outsider art
, and visionary art
was born at Valley Head,
Alabama and lived on the family farm as one of 13
He attended school from age six into the sixth
grade. He said he had his first vision at three years old, when he
saw his recently deceased sister Abbie Rose walking down out of the
sky wearing a white gown. She told him, "Howard, you're gonna be a
man of visions."
He became "born again
" at a
revival at the age of 13 and began
to preach at 16. He gave the occasional sermon at local churches
and wrote articles for the town newspaper, and became a full-time
pastor at Rock Bridge Baptist Church in 1940. He later served at the
Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Fort Payne, Alabama, shortly before venturing into full-time
started building his first garden park museum in Trion, Georgia in the late 1940s.
It featured an exhibit on
the inventions of mankind
in which Finster planned to
display one of everything that had ever been invented, models of
houses and churches, a pigeon flock and a duck pond.
When he ran out of land in Trion in 1961, he moved to Pennville, Georgia
and bought four acres
(16,000 m²) of land upon which to build the Plant Farm
"to show all the wonderful things o' God's Creation,
kinda like the Garden of Eden
features such attractions as the "Bible House," "the Mirror House,"
"the Hubcap Tower," "the Bicycle Tower," "the Machine Gun Nest,"
and the largest structure in the garden, the five-story "Folk Art
Chapel." He also started putting up signs with Bible
verses on them because "he felt that they stuck
in people's heads better that way."
He retired from preaching in 1965 and focused all of his time on
improving the Plant Farm Museum
. In 1976, he had another
vision to paint sacred art
. And one
day I was workin' on a patch job on a bicycle, and I was rubbin'
some white paint on that patch with this finger here, and I looked
at the round tip o' my finger, and there was a human face on it...
then a warm feelin' come over my body, and a voice spoke to me and
said, 'Paint sacred art.'
His images range from pop culture
like Elvis Presley
figures like George Washington
religious images like The Devils Vice
and "John the Baptist
" to his own visions. His
paintings are colorful and detailed; they use flat picture plane
without perspective and are often covered with words, especially
Bible verses. Every painting also has a number; God had asked him
to do 5,000 paintings to spread the gospel and he wanted to keep
He finished the 5,000 a few days before Christmas
in 1985, but continued painting and
numbering until the day he died. By 1989, he was already numbering
in the ten thousands.
He first started receiving outside publicity in 1975. That year, Atlanta, GA television
station Channel 5 ran a story and he also appeared in an
Esquire magazine article
that first dubbed his museum Paradise Garden.
his first exhibition appearance in 1976 and painted four paintings
for the Library of
Congress in 1977.
He was also selected to be part of
the Venice Biennale
gained national fame after his collaborative work with Athens, Georgia-based rock band R.E.M..
The group filmed the video for the
group's debut single "Radio
" in Finster's Paradise Gardens in 1983. The
following year, the band's singer Michael
and Finster collaborated on a painting for the cover of
their second album Reckoning
. After that the band
made the song "Maps and Legends" (in its third album Fables of the
) as an homage to Finster. Along with
R.E.M., Finster also appeared in the documentary film Athens, GA: Inside Out
in 1985, in which he tells the story of how he came to be an
artist. Finster (and his art) also appears in the band's video for
"Shiny Happy People" as the man riding the bike that propels the
moving background of artwork.
commissioned a Finster
painting for Little
in 1985 that was subsequently selected as album
cover of the year by Rolling
magazine. Other artists to use Finster as an album
cover designer include Memory Dean
, and Adam Again
. In 1994, a portion of his Paradise
Garden was installed as part of the permanent collection of
Museum. Bill Mallonee of
the Vigilantes of Love (also a
Christian from Athens, Georgia) wrote a song inspired by Finster's artwork called
The Glory and the Dream in 1994.
Howard Finster was responsible for introducing millions to outsider art
, but even with his fame, he
remained focused on religious outreach. He said of the Talking Heads
album, "I think there's
twenty-six religious verses on that first cover I done for them.
They sold a million records in the first two and a half months
after it come out, so that's twenty-six million verses I got out
into the world in two and a half months!"
The classification of his creations overlap folk art
for the origin, naïve art
for the content.
- Beal, T. (Timothy Beal) (2005).
"Folk Art Church: Paradise Gardens," in Roadside Religion: In
Search of the Sacred, the Strange, and the Substance of Faith.
- Finster, Howard and Patterson, Tom. (1989). Stranger From
Another World: Man of Visions Now on This Earth. Abbeville
Press. ISBN 0-89659-902-7.
- Turner, J.F. (1989). Howard Finster: Man of Visions.
Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-394-57961-5.
- Peacock, Robert (1996). Paradise Garden: A Trip Through
Howard Finster’s Visionary World, Chronicle Books. ISBN
0-8118-1197-2. ISBN 0-8118-0941-2.
- Finster 1989, p. 108
- Finster 1989, p. 123
- Finster 1989, p. 197
- "folk artist" in this NY Times article.
- "outsider artist" in this Lehigh University Art Galleries
- "naive artist" in this NY Times article.
- "outsider/primitive/naive artist" in this Lehigh University Art Galleries
- "visionary artist" in this New Georgia Encyclopedia