Revival planned for Howard Finster’s folk art church in $900,000 drive

The World’s Folk Art Church, the wedding cake-shaped structure that has towered over the Rev. Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden since the early 1980s, has bore witness to myriad improvements to the northwest Georgia folk art environment since Chattooga County purchased it in 2012.

Now, Paradise Garden Foundation leaders believe the time is right for Phase 2 of the revival, including a long-postponed rescue of the garden’s most recognizable landmark.

Last month, the nonprofit group announced a two-year $900,000 capital campaign to restore the World’s Folk Art Church plus other improvements.

Those include the construction of an outdoor pavilion across the street from the garden’s new visitors center that would host parties, picnics and other events; and the creation of large metal panels to dot the environment that would picture major Finster paintings and sculptures that were sold by the folk artist toward the end of his life, rotted away or went missing over time. The purchase of adjoining parcels for parking and funds for staffing growth would also be covered.

But the drawing card for funders is expected to be the restoration of the World’s Folk Art Church, which garden executive director Jordan Poole calls “one of the most, if not the most, iconic art environment structures in the country.”

While nearly every other structure on the property outside the county seat of Summerville has been restored to a form close to what it was in its prime, well before the decade of decline that followed Finster’s death in 2001, the fancifully ornate facade of the World’s Folk Art Church has grown more decayed and weather-beaten.

The board of the nonprofit Paradise Garden Foundation, which signed a 50-year, $1 lease with the county to revive and operate the attraction shortly after its purchase, focused the first phase of the ongoing restoration project on a series of smaller (if not small) projects. Those have included the stabilization of the raised, covered-bridge-like Rolling Chair Ramp, the digging out of Mosaic Garden sidewalks under inches of creek mud and the recently completed rebuild of the rotted-out Mirror House.

Work on the World’s Folk Art Church, an abandoned one-story sanctuary that the enterprising folk artist expanded to four levels with the help of a National Endowment for the Arts grant, was limited to adding interior supports to keep the roof from collapsing.

A major lead gift to launch the campaign, typical for such a large undertaking, was not revealed at the Phase 2 announcement during a Paradise Garden Foundation annual membership party.

Poole told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he and board leaders were “working on different partnerships” with foundations and individual donors and acknowledged that $900,000 is ambitious for an attraction in one of the state’s poorest counties.

“But for a national audience, I think it’s a realistic goal to achieve,” Poole said.

The nonprofit did have success securing major grants for Phase 1, including $445,000 from ArtPlace America and $225,000 from the Educational Foundation of America.

“We believe if you build it they will come, and it’s turned out very much that way,” he added. “The garden is a cultural asset and we want to keep that momentum going.”

EXHIBIT

Experimental ‘Gestures’ at MOCA GA

The performance troupe Glo continues its nine-week series of programs titled “gestures that soon will disappear: 4th Body,” in collaboration with the Atlanta artist team Paper-Cut-Project, at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia on Nov. 14.

The free 7 p.m. performance is described as “a hybrid form of choreographic exhibition composed of assemblies of objects, ephemera, sound and conceptual materials.”

Paper-Cut-Project, Atlantans Amy Flurry and Nikki Nye who since 2009 primarily have produced for fashion houses including Hermes and Cartier, created a series of elaborate, textured hair sculptures from paper for the collaboration with Glo.

As part of this ongoing experimental exhibition, Glo dancers are occupying the Buckhead museum during daily gallery hours — presenting a variety of workshops, performances and talks — until the Dec. 20 closing. The first free artist talk is scheduled for 2 p.m. Nov. 15.

MOCA GA is located at 75 Bennett St. Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. $8; $5 students. 404-367-8700, www.mocaga.org.

Proia Dance Project makes its bow

Alexandre Proia, who danced with New York City Ballet and Martha Graham Company and more recently served as artistic director of Georgia Ballet, debuts his own company, Proia Dance Project, in a 6-9 p.m. Nov. 9 benefit. “TranscenDance,” a preview of new choreography, music and multimedia, will be held at Ivy Grove, a circa 1840 Marietta mansion.

Tickets for the cocktail-attire event, including hors d’oeuvres, dessert, wine and beer, are $75 per person. 473 Cherokee St., Marietta. Reservations: Jim Glover, 770-428-2525; or www.proiadanceproject.com.

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