Rev. Howard Finster


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Painter and sculptor. Frustrated that his words as a Baptist preacher often were quickly forgotten, he concluded that he might exert a more lasting effect by casting his thoughts in permanent form. Remaining self-taught as an artist, he directed much of his religious devotion into the creation of an idiosyncratic “paradise garden.” In the early 1960s he began to construct what amounted to an ever-changing environmental sculpture in Pennville, Georgia. Defined by concrete walls painted white, the garden is embellished by all manner of found and ornamented objects. Mirror fragments, hubcaps, photographs under plastic, and other objects are set into the walls, producing opulent effects that respond to changing conditions of light. While also creating independent works of art, in the mid-1970s Finster began to incorporate paintings into the garden. For these, he generally used discarded materials or plywood, which he painted with enamel, automobile paint, or other weather-resistant media. After purchasing a lot adjacent to his garden in 1981, he remodeled an abandoned church into the World's Folk Art Church, crowned with an enormous decorative cupola. By this time, his offbeat art and gregarious, quirky personality had brought national attention. Although Finster's drawing remained resolutely unrefined, his paintings achieve considerable vivacity through bright color, anecdotal detail, and dense compositions. Vision of a Great Gulf on Planet Hell (Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1980) warns against the sinful life by combining numerous texts with imagery of hideous creatures, all set against a crimson background. A little less than two feet high, his tower of discarded television parts and other materials, The Model of Super Power Plaint (Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1979), offers gaily painted imagery and religious exhortations to suggest, as does his garden, Finster's faith in visual experience as a path to God and righteousness. Born in Valley Head, Alabama, Finster resided all his life in small towns along the Alabama-Georgia border, about ninety miles northwest of Atlanta, although he also traveled in the region to lead revivals and otherwise pursue his religious vocation. He left school after the sixth grade and became a preacher while still in his teens. In 1941 he settled in Trion, Georgia, where he experimented with an earlier garden before starting on the nearby Pennville example. He died in a hospital in Rome, Georgia, not far from his final home in Summerville.

Subjects: Art.

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