Howard Finster's Paradise Garden
"I never met a person I didn't love." Howard Finster
Trion, Georgia is an unlikely destination for most. A garden created by acclaimed visionary artist, Howard Finster however brings folk art enthusiasts and curious visitors from all over the world to see Howard Finster's Paradise Garden. The artist's property is an enormous art instillation comprised of buildings, sculptures, and paintings that is open to the public. I made the trek to nearby Summerville, Georgia for Finster Fest, an annual celebration dedicated Finster and folk art years ago with some grad school friends. After a few hours at the fest we ventured to Trion to see Howard Finster's home and art sanctuary Paradise Garden.
If you've never heard of Howard Finster, here's a crash course.
Howard Finster was a reverend turned visionary folk artist. 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 landed 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.
Paradise Garden began as a roadside tribute to inventors and this rock and junk encrusted wonderland became the focus of Finster’s life work (via). The art was inspired by visions he saw, and featured historical figures, celebrities, Bible verses, and other hand-lettered messages. This 4-acre home/art instillation is bursting with color and creativity. Seeing it for the first time is a complete sensory overload.
The Paradise Garden Foundation provides a handy interpretive map for visitors so you can explore the grounds on your own. 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.
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.
“Howard was known for his art and for his view of upcycling the most mundane items into something that inspires a vision that was to be shared then, now, and in the future,” says Jordan Poole, executive director of Paradise Garden. “With his visions, he became the internationally known grandfather of Southern Folk Art.”
According to people who knew him, he didn’t drink coffee or alcohol, but he frequently enjoyed a Coke while he was painting, and he often featured the iconic bottle shape in his artwork. - Craig Lovin, creative director of the World of Coca-Cola (via)
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.
Sculpture & Mosaic Walk
After the Chapel, walk 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 inspired by Finster and his work, and was a frequent visitor to the gardens. I love this one because it appears to be a collaborative piece: notice the Coke bottles on the base and the characteristic Haring graffiti/pop illustration.
When visiting Paradise Garden, you are free to roam around and explore the grounds at your leisure. There is so much to see so take your time and enjoy.
Paradise Garden is family friendly destination and easy road trip from Atlanta, Chattanooga, Tennessee and Huntsville, Alabama.
When I originally published this post, Paradise Garden had just reopened to the public and only open during the summer. The garden is now open year-round Tuesday-Sunday from 11 am-5pm. You can even stay overnight at Paradise Garden. Check out this adorable Airbnb cottage on the property.