"I never met a person I didn't love." Howard Finster
This past Sunday I made the trek to Summerville, Georgia for Finster Fest with some friends to see Howard Finster's legendary Paradise Garden. Formally known as Finster Day, Finster Fest is now a celebration of the visionary artist's life and work. Each year people come from around the world to Dowdy Park in downtown Summerville and enjoy live music, crafts, and tours of the garden.
If you've never heard of Howard Finster, here's a crash course...
He began his career as a reverend turned visionary folk artist when in 1976 the vision of a face in a paint smudge on his finger directed Howard to "Paint Sacred Art". Nearly 50,000 paintings later Rev. Finster’s vision has placed his artwork in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., the American Folk Art Museum in NYC, the Library of Congress and major museums and collections around the world. His artwork became of interest to several nationally known bands like R.E.M. and The Talking Heads; Finster created album covers for both of these bands and several bands have filmed videos in the garden. The honesty and humility portrayed in his work is refreshing and continues to inspire generations.
His home and gardens are an incredible, living art instillation with so much activity and color everywhere; when you see it for the first time it is a complete sensory overload...Luckily when we entered the garden, we were greeted by a friendly Paradise Garden Foundation volunteer and they provided us with a map and interpretive brochure. The foundation has done an incredible job stabilizing the structures and reopening the property. Thanks to the foundation, local, and state support Paradise Garden is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
First Stop: Howard's Studio and Workshop
This site fostered Finster's creative spirit and is where he created over 40,000 works of art. The structures themselves are works of art, adorned with brightly colored characters, antique chandeliers, flower pots, and sculptures, and everything is strategically placed so visitors flow through the property with ease. As we continued around the side of the house, I looked up and saw the shiny steeple that I have seen several times only in photographs.
#2 World's Folk Art Chapel
This piece began in 1982 when Howard Finster received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to build a folk art chapel. Finster bought and converted Rev. Billy Wright's church building and turned it into the heavenly inspired chapel that is still stands. The original roof was cut out and built it up and up adding "reflectors," other art, and inspiration. It is full of supplies now, but maybe one day it will hold weddings and other events as it once did.
After the Chapel, we walked down the sculpture walk designed by Finster. At the beginning of the trail is Howard's car complete with a portrait of his family, friends, and travel memories.
One of my favorite sculptures on the whole property is this one by Keith Haring. Haring was a frequent visitor to the gardens and was inspired by Finster. I love this one because it appears to be a collaborative piece: notice the Coke bottles (Finsteresque) on the base and the characteristic Haring graffiti/pop illustrations.
I love a self guided tour...we were free to roam around and explore the grounds to attempt taking it all in. The sculpture and mosaic gardens were my favorites...so much to see! Enjoy!
After winding through the mosaic garden, we made our way into the Meditation House. It is a small room full of inspirational art, Finster's writings, and old church pews for you to rest.
So glad I finally got to see this place! Howard Finster's art and life has always been intriguing to me and I see why he has so many fans and "disciples." The gardens will be open all summer so if you are ever near Summerville or want something different to do on a weekend you should go! It's definitely worth it!