Reverend Howard Finster


was born on a small farm in northeast Alabama, and as an adult lived in adjoining northwest Georgia. He left school after finishing the sixth grade, and at age sixteen began a long career as a traveling Baptist preacher. In the late 1940s, he created an environment of miniature buildings and religious monuments, as well as the beginnings of a collection he called
Inventions of Mankind,
in the yard of his house in Trion, Georgia. In 1961, when he moved with his family to nearby Pennville, he brought some of those things with him, and they formed the nucleus of an art environment he initially called
Plant Farm Museum
. He commenced work on the latter project almost immediately, in response to a vision in which he claimed that a fifteen-foot-tall man admonished him to “get on the altar.”After retiring from formal church ministry, in 1965, Finster supported his family by repairing bicycles and lawn mowers, and devoted any spare time to his ambitious backyard project. He had spent fifteen years developing his
Paradise Garden,
as it became known, by the time it began to attract widespread attention. Then, in1976, another vision, in the form of a tiny human face that spoke to him from a paint-smudge on his fingertip, prompted him to start painting “sacred art.”Finster consistently tended to fill any available space in his paintings, surrounding the highly varied imagery with handwritten Bible quotes, opinionated messages, andstartling accounts of visions in which he claimed to travel to “other worlds beyond the light of the sun.” These early “sermons in paint,” as he called them, were fairlysmall works in enamel on plywood, sheet metal, or Masonite. Later, he began to make sculpture and to experiment with other materials, including mirror glass, Plexiglas beads, and wire. Invariably urgent in tone and intensely overwrought, his works deal with themes of history, biography, autobiography, divine power, worldly calamity,sin, salvation, steadfast faith, heavenly reward, and extra-terrestrial life. By the time he died of heart failure, he had created more than 47,000 dated and numbered pieces, including many on a fairly ambitious scale. Now in severe decline, with many of its best components removed to public and private collections,
Paradise Garden
is owned by the artist’s youngest daughter,who operates a gift shop adjoining the site, open to the public for an admission fee.
See also
Environments, Folk; Visionary Art
Finster, Howard, as told to Tom Patterson.
Howard Finster: Stranger from Another World: Man of Visions Now on This Earth.
New York, 1989.Peacock, Robert, and Annibel Jenkins.
Paradise Garden: A Trip Through Howard Finster’s Visionary World.
San Francisco, 1996.Turner, J.F.
Howard Finster, Man of Visions: The Life and Work of a Self-Taught Artist.
New York, 1989