Friday, January 30, 2009

Howard Finster

"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."

In December of 1987 my friend Ethan and I embarked on a two-week road trip to New Orleans. One of the places we visited along the way was Howard Finster's Paradise Gardens located in Summerville, Georgia. As most folks know, Howard Finster (1916-2001) was a retired Baptist minister who had a vision in 1976 to paint sacred art:

And one day I was workin' on a patch job on a bicycle, and I was rubbin' some white paint on that patch with this finger here, and I looked at the round tip o' my finger, and there was a human face on it... then a warm feelin' come over my body, and a voice spoke to me and said, 'Paint sacred art.'
Over the next 25 years Howard Finster created tens of thousands of works of art, each with the intended purpose of spreading the Gospel. In the early 1960's he began work the Plant Farm Museum on a 4-acre tract of swamp land that he had recently purchased. After draining the swamp he populated the property with various sculptural forms and buildings to house his artwork and objects donated by others. This environment came to be known as Paradise Garden.
Ethan and I were able to spend several hours visiting Paradise Garden where I shot several rolls of black & white film. I also shot a roll of color slide film which I had forgotten about until I came across the slides a few days ago.

A sculpture made of concrete, doll parts, and an old television.

This is a detail of the Machine Gun Nest. It is made up of welded bicycle parts.

The Pump House, made of glass bottles and concrete.

Two of Rev. Finster's dogs, and rusting appliances. He'd faded a bit but I'm pretty sure that the dog on the right had a cameo in REM's video for Radio Free Europe (see below @ 1:33 min.).

His paintings were displayed throughout the Garden, both indoors and outside. As the paintings would deteriorate he would replace them with new ones.

R.E.M. filmed the video for "Radio Free Europe" at Paradise Gardens, and Howard collaborated with Michael Stipe for the front cover of "Reckoning". When Rev. Finster gave Ethan and me a tour of his studio he pointed out a drawing that Michael had done during an earlier visit to his studio. According to Howard, "The REMs are good boys."

Sadly, much of the Garden as Ethan and I saw it is now gone. Many of the larger concrete sculptures were acquired by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, where they are currently on display. Unfortunately it's just not the same to see these pieces in a sterile museum environment, although I understand the need to preserve them. Howard Finster's daughter, Beverly, recently donated and signed over Paradise Gardens to a non-profit organization whose goal is to preserve and restore the property.

Howard Finster on the Johnny Carson Show, 1983:

REM - Radio Free Europe:

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