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How a Southern Baptist Preacher Became a Legendary Folk Artist

Updated on June 28, 2018

A Self Portrait of Howard Finster

The Young Howard Finster

Born in 1916 in Valley Head, Alabama, a young Howard Finster had his first vision at the tender age of 3. Howard saw Abbie Rose, his deceased sister come down from the sky in a white flowing dress and told him he would become a man of visions.
Ten years later as a young teenager, Howard attended a Baptist revival and became a "Born Again Christian". At the age of 16 Howard became a lay preacher and spoke at local congregations throughout northeastern Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee.

Howard's Years in the Pulpit

By the time the 1940's rolled around, Howard had married his wife Pauline and became a full time minister at Rock Bridge Baptist Church on Lookout Mountain and later at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Fort Payne Alabama.
In 1948 he would pick up his family and move to Trion, a small town in Chattooga County Georgia where he would pastor at the Chelsea Baptist Church.

Paradise Gardens

In 1961 the Reverend Finster, tired of preaching from the pulpit, bought three acres of land in Pennville which is sandwiched between Trion and the quiet town of Summerville. Here he would build what would later be known as Paradise Gardens, Howard's own Garden of Eden.
He would go on to build structures of art out of recycled bicycles, concrete, broken dishes, Coca Cola bottles and so on. A man who went "Green" before being "Green" was cool.
Later on in 1982 he would expand the Gardens by purchasing a small church and transforming it into the "World's Folk Art Chapel".

The Vision That Would Make Howard Finster Famous

In 1976 at the age of 61, Howard was repairing a bicycle, one of his many hobbies. While repainting this bike, he would see the face of a man in a dab of paint on his fingertip. This would inspire him to create "sacred" art for the rest of his life.
The art Howard created would be painted on anything from canvas to plywood to an old telephone. It would always contain a bible verse or one of Howard's personal quotations that some people would call a "Finsterism". When he completed an art piece he would sign, date, mark the time of day he completed it, and the number of the art piece. By the time he died in 2001 he would complete over 47,000 works of art, all numbered!

Garden Art

The World Folk Art Chapel

R.E.M. Reckoning Cover

Talking Heads' - Little Creatures

R.E.M. and The Talking Heads'

Members of the Georgia rock band R.E.M. had gotten to know Howard and in 1982 produced a video for their song " Radio Free Europe" in Howard's Paradise Gardens. The band would go on to commission Howard to create the artwork for the band's 1984 album "Reckoning". Howard would also make an appearance in their "Shiny Happy People" music video.
In 1985 the band Talking Heads' was also so impressed with Howard Finster's art that they would use his work for their "Little Creatures" album cover.
Howard's art would also go on the covers of lesser known albums of Adam Again, Memory Dean, and Pierce Pettis.

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

In 1983 Howard Finster was invited to appear on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson". He sang a couple of songs, played his banjo, and told humorous tales that only Howard could tell. His wit and humor charmed the host of the show, the audience, and everyone who was tuned in.

The Howard Finster Collection

Location of Paradise Gardens

Paradise Gardens:
200 N Lewis St, Summerville, GA 30747, USA

get directions

Finster Fest

With Howard Finster's appearance on "The Tonight Show", the citizens of Howard's Chattooga County realized how special their local folk artist was. From then on the county along with the city of Summerville, Georgia have held the annual Finster Fest. Artists, vendors, and people from all over descend on Paradise Gardens to learn and enjoy Howard's legacy.

Howard Finster Books and Prints from Amazon

© 2012 James Roberts


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    • Phyllis Doyle profile image

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 

      4 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      How interesting. I enjoyed learning about Howard Finster and his visionary work. His World Folk Art Chapel must be quite enjoyable to visit.

      Thanks for sharing this information, scooterport.

    • Hannah David Cini profile image

      Hannah David Cini 

      4 years ago from Nottingham

      Wow, 47000 pieces- that is a lot of art! I really enjoyed reading this and definitely feel like I learnt something new. Thank you for sharing.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      4 years ago from sunny Florida

      Wow....the close up of the work he created is amazing. What a well kept secret.

      Voted up++++ shared pinned

      Angels are on the way to you this morning ps

    • scooterport profile imageAUTHOR

      James Roberts 

      7 years ago from Summerville, Georgia

      Thank you so much. You are so right, the world is full of little mysterious yet wonderful places.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      7 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      A bio of a very interesting man, I love stories like this, it shows what a wonderful mysterious place this planet really is.

      Well done


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