FINSTER BY ANY OTHER NAME
The sacred artist was blessed with a gift for self-promotion. Here are some of the ways he described himself:
- “Stranger From Another World”
- “Messenger From God”
- “Man of Visions”
- “Second Noah”
- “God’s Last Red Light on Planet Earth”
- “Earth’s Cartoonist From God”
- “God’s Instrument”
Source: “Howard Finster: Stranger From Another World” (1989, out of print)
FINSTER TIME LINE
1915: Born to a farming family near Valley Head, Ala. Has his first “vision” around age 3, is saved at age 13, heeds God’s second call to preach at age 16.
1930s: Is called to lead the first of a dozen small rural churches he would pastor.
Late 1940s: Begins his first “museum park,” including an “exhibit house” to display castoff items representing “the inventions of mankind,” behind his two-story home and grocery store in Trion.
Early 1960s: Unable to expand his park, he purchases land that backs up to a swamp in unincorporated Pennville, south of Trion. He then buys adjoining lots also edging the swamp and begins building another outdoor museum and garden, calling it the Plant Farm Museum.
1965: Quits the pulpit at Chelsea Baptist Church in Menlo, where he had preached for 15 years, because only one member at a prayer meeting could remember the topic of his sermon that morning.
1975: Esquire magazine runs story on Plant Farm Museum, referring to as a “garden of paradise,” leading people to start calling it Paradise Garden.
1976: Working in his bicycle repair shop, Finster sees a face in a dab of paint on a fingertip that commands him: “Paint sacred art.”
1982: With help from a National Endowment for the Arts grant, he purchases a small church, expanding it into the World’s Folk Art Church.
1982: R.E.M. films music video “Radio Free Europe” at the site.
1983: Finster spins tales, plays banjo on Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show.”
1985: Talking Heads releases “Little Creatures” album featuring Finster artwork.
2001: Finster dies at age 84, having completed 47,000-plus gospel-preaching artworks.
2010: Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation lists Paradise Garden on Places in Peril list.
2011: Chattooga County purchases property.
2012: Paradise Garden Foundation signs 50-year lease for $1.
2013: Soft opening for Paradise Garden’s visitor center during Finster Fest, with grand opening planned for August.
FINSTER PRICES ON THE RISE
When two early Howard Finster paintings fetched $37,500 and $36,000 at a Slotin Folk Art Auction in Buford in April, the folk art world took notice.
If you know someone who owns a Finster, which includes a lot of folks since he completed more than 47,000 numbered pieces, that doesn’t mean he or she has struck gold. For one thing, a lot of those were created in his high production later years when he strayed from the one-of-kind works he first created.
Still, a dozen years after his death, there does seem to be a Finster resurgence afoot.
The exhibit “Stranger in Paradise: The Works of Reverend Howard Finster” drew well at seven museums on a recently completed U.S. tour, and a high-profile exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, “Great and Mighty Things,” includes a cache of fine Finsters.
“The No. 1 reason (for rising values) is that early, great Finsters can stand against any other artist out there and everyone has now realized that — collectors, dealers, museum curators,” said Dr. Jim Arient, a Chicagoan who lent multiple works to “Stranger in Paradise” and who’s on the Paradise Garden Foundation’s national advisory board.
For those interested in buying, scatterings of late-vintage Finsters can be found on eBay and many folk gallery Web sites. But a gallery that opened only a mile from Paradise Garden last year boasts perhaps the country’s biggest selection of old and new Finsters.
In a converted 1935 red-brick farmhouse, Folk America is owned by long-time Finster friends and patrons Larry and Jane Schlachter. Prices range from $100 for a print to $7,800 for a 6-foot-3-inch-tall cutout, “Youth of Abe Lincoln” (1985), according to Larry, a Paradise Garden Foundation board member (706-857-8095, www.folkamerica.net).
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