Over the weekend, our family spent a breezy fall afternoon in paradise—Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden in Summerville, Georgia. Finster, a self-proclaimed “Man of Visions”, was a folk artist, self-taught and highly dedicated to his calling.
At the age of 59 in 1976, Finster received a vision from God to create 5000 sacred works. He not only completed this number in just nine years but went on to produce almost 47,000 works before he died in 2001.
“I’m a bicycle repairman,” he said. “I’m a retired pastor, and God brought these visions upon me and I have these visions and have to tell ‘em to somebody and this world is all I got to tell ‘em to.”
Called “the grandfather of Southern folk art” and “the Southern Andy Warhol”, Finster’s work appears in major museums across the country and in private collections around the world. He even designed album covers for the bands R.E.M. and Talking Heads.
But the culmination of his work is Paradise Garden, listed on The National Register of Historic Places and recently restored by the Paradise Garden Foundation.
A photo of Finster inside the visitor’s center shows him standing with a sign he painted that says, “I took the pieces you threw away, put them togather by night and day. Washed by rain, dried by sun. A million pieces all in one.”
When you step out into the Garden, you can believe that a million pieces came together in it. Here are most of the major features:
· A tall, round tower overlooking the property
· Glass mosaic walkways and stepping stones;
· A chapel and elevated walkway filled with wooden placards of neatly written Bible verses
· Paintings on wood, sides of buildings, and even a Cadillac
· Paintings of Elvis, angels, Coca-Cola bottles, and more
· Concrete walls elaborately decorated with busts, glass pieces, and small plastic objects
· Collections of items that would qualify for “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”
· Two tiny buildings covered with small mirrors inside and out
Of all these features, my favorite was the larger mirror house, which sits above a pool of sorts that winds through various art pieces. The playhouse-sized structure is covered on the outside with glass pieces that reflect the surroundings, and when I first saw it, I was surprised to see that it glowed with the green of nearby trees.
After walking up a set of stairs, you step inside a glittering mosaic of more mirrored pieces covering the walls, ceiling, and floor. You can see yourself multiple times from every angle. You can’t help but laugh like a kid and ham it up. And take lots of pictures.
As I wandered through Paradise Garden, what impressed me most about Finster was his steadfast commitment to his work and his calling. He never gave up.
I was also encouraged and inspired by his example in this: that it’s never too late to start something new or to use your gifts in new ways.
Is there some new activity that you’d like to try? What can you do today or this week to get started?
If other people don’t share your passion or understand your calling, whatever it is, how do you keep going with your work day after day?
For a recent post about a very different outdoor art experience, click here.