For the unfamiliar, Paradise Garden is the life’s work of the late Reverend Howard Finster (2 December 1915 or 1916-22 October 2001). A man of strong religious faith, Finster was a tireless folk artist who used his boundless energy and talent to spread the word of God in every available medium. The folk art chapel (above), as well as much of the garden itself, is presently being restored after going back to nature in the time since his passing. His own words sum up his mission and are often used to describe his philosophy of reusing, recycling and casting nothing of value aside: “I took the pieces you threw away-put them together by night & day-washed by rain and dried by sun, a million pieces all in one!” As a matter of fact, Finster created over 40,000 pieces of art in his lifetime.
Howard Finster rose to national prominence and widespread fame in the 1980s thanks to his work being featured on album covers by the Talking Heads, R.E.M., and many others. R.E.M. even shot much of their video for “Radio Free Europe” at the garden and featured a cameo of Howard. During this time Reverend Finster was also a guest on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson which helped cement his national reputation.
Visiting Paradise Garden for the first time was a life-changing experience for me. The people of Chattooga County are understandably proud to call Howard one of their own and in all my travels around Georgia, they are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. The next three images highlight the Rolling Chair Ramp Gallery, where work from fans and admirers, as well as ephemera and memorabilia from Howard’s life are displayed. He built this structure mainly to share his message with those who were unable to walk around the garden.
The Coca-Cola Bottle House (below) was used as a pump house.
Howard let nothing go to waste, not even the waste basket.
This giant cement shoe is one of my favorite items in the garden.
Enjoy the next few photographs and get an idea of this visionary’s world. Of course, the only way to really appreciate it is to make the journey to Summerville yourself. You won’t regret it!
The mirror house (below) is being restored.
In the mosaic garden…
Tributes to Howard Finster
Some of Howard’s “supplies”.
The tour is entirely self-guided, unless you ask for a guide, and you are guaranteed to get lost in the whimsy of this place. Consider that a good thing.
Detail of Finster Self-Portrait and the front porch of his home, now the visitor’s center.
National Register of Historic Places