Paradise GardenHoward Finster (1916–2001)
About the Artist/Site
Throughout his life, Howard Finster experienced what he considered divinely-inspired visions. A Baptist minister in northwest Georgia who worked as a mechanic and repairman to supplement his pastoral income, Finster channeled those visions into artistic creations. He believed that he was called by God, like Noah, to build something for the benefit of mankind; for fifty years he did so, through the creation of a garden full of sculptures and found objects, and thousands of works of religiously-inspired art. He used his art as outreach to extend his religious message as broadly as possible, incorporating a wide range of imagery, including extraterrestrial travel, heavenly mansions, angels and devils, Jesus, and Elvis. He told biographer Tom Patterson that he believed God “showed …people all over the world what He could do through a sixth-grade student and a swamp fulla garbage.”
In the late 1940s, Finster began creating a “museum park” in Trion, Georgia, to house an example of every “tool and product known to man.” Later, he moved to nearby Summerville, bought a two-acre property, and went on to install nearly everything he could find in his new Plant Farm Museum and Inventions of Mankind garden. (It was not until his site was described as a “Garden of Paradise in a 1975 Esquire article that the artist began referring to the site as Paradise Garden.) Working with items scavenged from dumps and roadsides or dropped off by friends and neighbors, he filled the site with a bottle house, a tower of rusted bicycle frames, found-object constructions, cement “mountains” and sculptures, and hand-painted religious signs. He set tools in concrete paths and embedded objects in the walls, including the recently removed tonsils of a neighborhood boy. Later, he added the World’s Folk Art Chapel to display his own art as well as that of other self-taught artists. A sign at the site’s entrance held a poem that could serve as an anthem for other artist-environment builders: “I took the pieces you threw away / And put them together by night and day / Washed by rain and dried by sun /A million pieces all in one.”
Finster’s talent, gregariousness and wry, oracular pronouncements brought him national attention. Selections of his painted works—a tiny percentage of the 46,000+ paintings he created—were exhibited in the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution, as well as a hundred other venues. In 1975 he made a show-stealing appearance on the Tonight Show. Later, he received a National Arts Endowment grant, had his work exhibited in the 1984 Venice Biennale, and worked with several rock musicians to create the cover art for popular albums.
Efforts are underway to restore the World’s Folk Art Chapel and many of the other important buildings and sculpture, and Chattooga County has, as of November, 2011, committed to purchasing the site in order to create a county park honoring their most famous native son.
bottles, cement, concrete, found objects, recycled materials
SPACES Archives Holdings
2 folders: clippings, correspondence, pamphlets, and images
Map & Site Information
201-207 Rena St
Summerville, GA, 30747 us
Latitude/Longitude: 34.5134669 / -85.3167928
Lookout Mountain, Georgia
Lookout Mountain, Georgia