Howard Finster was born into a family of thirteen in 1916. He attended school only through the sixth grade, by 13 years old was a born again Christian, and by 16 he was preaching. Finster claims to have had his first spiritual revelation at the tender age of three, and said he witnessed his deceased sister coming down from heaven to let him know one important message.
“Howard, you’re gonna be a man of visions.”
In the 1940s Howard, evangelist and pastor, began to work on a new type of vision, a different way with which he intended to spread the word: art.
He began work on a garden-art environment in Summerville, Georgia in 1961, after leaving behind his first undertaking in Trion, Georgia. Howard called this new project and garden “The Plant Farm Museum.” Made of recycled materials, broken glass, concrete, painted objects, rust and other discarded materials he built it to celebrate what he called the “intentions of mankind.”
The site quickly grew to monster proportions, with Howard building multiple buildings on the site, including the “Bible House,” “the Mirror House,” “the Hubcap Tower,”“the Bicycle Tower,” “the Machine Gun Nest,” and the astonishingly large, five-story “Folk Art Chapel.”
As Finster’s work began to gain notoriety an article published in Esquire magazine dubbed the garden “A Garden of Paradise” and the name stuck and evolved into what is now “Paradise Gardens.” In 1976 Howard began another art undertaking after he experienced being been called by God to “paint sacred art” which he began to do with great zeal.
You may be familiar with Finster’s work and not realize it. Fans of his work included both REM lead singer Michael Stipe and Talking Heads singer David Byrne and both worked with Finster and had him create cover art for their albums—the album Reckoning in the case of REM, and Little Creatures for Talking Heads.
Howard’s Paradise Gardens remains today, the place for thousands to enjoy for a quiet stroll or for art and music festivals as well as educational research and workshops. Finster died in 2001. The last item Howard Finster put up in his ever evolving Garden was this request, reading:
“Help save the Garden Chapel. Thousands enjoyed it. A place of free weddings and many school groups Last 40 years.”
Today the Chapel Restoration Fund is attempting to raise money to do so.
Know Before You Go
Georgia 27 to Rena Street to Knox Street. Entrance fee is $15.