Howard Finster Before He Painted: Wood Creations from the 50s to 70s
Paradise Garden will open the exhibition Howard Finster Before He Painted: Wood Creations from the 50s to 70s in the Garden’s Museum & Visitor Center on Saturday, February 18, 2023. The nonprofit Paradise Garden Foundation is excited to present Howard Finster Before He Painted because it showcases a little-known side of this creative powerhouse long before he became one of the 20th century’s best-known folk artists. Including wooden mantel clocks, toys, dollhouse furniture, and more pieces handcrafted by Finster, the exhibit will remain on view through Sunday, May 7, 2023. Finster created an astounding 46,991 numbered artworks, most of them paintings, between 1976 and his death in 2001. Though many familiar with his bigger-than-life story assume that a fully formed artist was born the day in 1976 when a God-like voice commanded that he should “paint sacred art,” Finster was then already an accomplished woodworker. That is a different kind of creative expression for which he is famous but one, the Paradise Garden Foundation believes, worthy of study and appreciation on its own terms. Woodworking was in the Finster bloodlines. Howard grew up in a farmhouse built from boards saw-milled by his farmer-father in Valley Head, Alabama. “The first art I made, really, was when I was about sixteen or seventeen years old, and I started doin’ woodwork,” he recalled in the 1989 book Howard Finster: Stranger from Another World, Man of Visions, Now on This Earth. Inventive from the start, he created a lathe to turn wood from spare parts, including an old Model-T generator. Finster’s first wooden creations were a full-size bed, lamps, and toy cannons. Soon, he was producing multiple little black-walnut jugs for sale that were used as talcum powder shakers. Howard and Pauline Finster’s daughter Thelma Finster Bradshaw explained in her book Howard Finster: The Early Years that her father “simply enjoyed the art of creating – whether it was a house, a ‘mansion,’ a kitchen cabinet or a doll-sized set of living room furniture.” Finster later honed his carpentry skills while planning and constructing a home for Chelsea Baptist Church in Menlo, a farming community west of Summerville, where he pastored from 1950 to 1965, his longest tenure as a church minister. Finster and a deacon who owned a local sawmill harvested the wood to build the church’s exterior and interior. Using these woodworking skills on a smaller scale, Finster also created dollhouse furniture for his young daughters, rolling toy cars for his son, bookcases, tables, kitchen cabinets, and floor and mantel clocks. As he had as a teenager, he created his own woodworking tools, for example, using bicycle chains to create decorative edges. Larry and Jane Schlachter, owners of Folk America Gallery and Summerville Trade Day, have generously loaned these never-before-exhibited woodworks for the exhibit that were created from the 1950s to the 1970s. A few rare pieces will be sold during the exhibit. A small selection of objects from the Paradise Garden Foundation archive will also be on view. Howard Finster Before He Painted: Wood Creations from the 50s to 70s will run from February 18 to May 7, 2023 and will be on view during Paradise Garden’s regular operating hours, 11 am-5 pm Tuesdays through Sundays. For questions about the exhibit, please call 706-808-0800 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. * * * Howard Finster’s story at a glance: The Rev. Howard Finster (1916-2001) said he was “called by God to become a preacher” in 1931. He gave his first sermon the next year and preached at his first revival in 1940. He assumed his first pulpit in 1941, at Rock Bridge Baptist Church on Lookout Mountain, the first of more than a dozen rural churches he served over the next 35 years. Starting in the late 1940s, he built a two-story home of handmade concrete blocks on a small parcel in Trion and began constructing his first outdoor “museum” in the yard, featuring a collection of miniature buildings and much more. In 1961, he moved his family to a home in Pennville, between Trion and Summerville, on land that would later come to be known as Paradise Garden. In the early 1960s, Finster opened a bicycle repair shop in a corner of his garden-in-progress. He also began producing clock cabinets and other woodcraft items for sale. While working in his bicycle repair shop onsite in 1976, he experienced a vision to “paint sacred art.” Finster’s artwork and the Garden started to attract visitors and media attention to this quiet Northwest Georgia spot. In the early 1980s, R.E.M. filmed its music video for the song Radio Free Europe at the Garden, and Finster’s growing popularity led to an invitation to appear on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Even wider acceptance came in 1985 in the form of a commission to paint the cover for Talking Heads’ Little Creatures, which was honored as Rolling Stone magazine’s Album Cover of the Year. Today, Paradise Garden Foundation operates and maintains the Garden, welcoming 8,500 visitors per year.