Howard Finster, Paradise Garden

ShareAdd page to my spaces
  • Location:

    Summerville, Georgia, USA (Map)

  • Status:


  • Artist:
  • Built:

    begun late 1940s

  • Materials:

    bottles, cement, concrete, found objects, recycled materials

About the Artist/Site

Throughout his life, Howard Finster experienced what he considered divinely-inspired visions. A Baptist minister in northwest Georgia who worked as a mechanic and repairman to supplement his pastoral income, Finster channeled those visions into artistic creations. He believed that he was called by God, like Noah, to build something for the benefit of mankind; for fifty years he did so, through the creation of a garden full of sculptures and found objects, and thousands of works of religiously-inspired art. He used his art as outreach to extend his religious message as broadly as possible, incorporating a wide range of imagery, including extraterrestrial travel, heavenly mansions, angels and devils, Jesus, and Elvis. He told biographer Tom Patterson that he believed God “showed …people all over the world what He could do through a sixth-grade student and a swamp fulla garbage.”

In the late 1940s, Finster began creating a “museum park” in Trion, Georgia, to house an example of every “tool and product known to man.” Later, he moved to nearby Summerville, bought a two-acre property, and went on to install nearly everything he could find in his new Plant Farm Museum and Inventions of Mankind garden. (It was not until his site was described as a “Garden of Paradise in a 1975 Esquire article that the artist began referring to the site as Paradise Garden.) Working with items scavenged from dumps and roadsides or dropped off by friends and neighbors, he filled the site with a bottle house, a tower of rusted bicycle frames, found-object constructions, cement “mountains” and sculptures, and hand-painted religious signs. He set tools in concrete paths and embedded objects in the walls, including the recently removed tonsils of a neighborhood boy. Later, he added the World’s Folk Art Chapel to display his own art as well as that of other self-taught artists. A sign at the site’s entrance held a poem that could serve as an anthem for other artist-environment builders: “I took the pieces you threw away / And put them together by night and day / Washed by rain and dried by sun /A million pieces all in one.”

Finster’s talent, gregariousness and wry, oracular pronouncements brought him national attention. Selections of his painted works—a tiny percentage of the 46,000+ paintings he created—were exhibited in the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution, as well as a hundred other venues. In 1975 he made a show-stealing appearance on the Tonight Show. Later, he received a National Arts Endowment grant, had his work exhibited in the 1984 Venice Biennale, and worked with several rock musicians to create the cover art for popular albums.

Efforts are underway to restore the World’s Folk Art Chapel and many of the other important buildings and sculpture, and Chattooga County has, as of November, 2011, committed to purchasing the site in order to create a county park honoring their most famous native son.

~Mark Karpel

SPACES Archives Holdings

2 folders: clippings, correspondence, pamphlets, and images

Related Documents

Summary of years events for Paradise Garden, 12/7/2012

Letter to SPACES/Jo Farb Hernandez from Kathy Berry, Paradise Garden Foundation, 3/22/2013

Postcard to SPACES/Jo Farb Hernandez from Rome Area Council for the ARTS, 2013

Letter to Richard Cloues from SPACES/Seymour Rosen, 10/13/1981

Letter to SPACES/Seymour Rosen from Henry D. Struble, GA Dept. of Natural Resources, 7/2/1981

Program for 3rd annual Spirit of America Awards Presentation, 10/30/1989

Blank RSVP card for 3rd annual Spirit of America Awards Presentation, 10/30/1989

RSVP card/invitation for Spirit of America Awards Presentation, 10/30/1989

Note enclosed with invitation to Spirit of America Awards, 10/30/1989

Letter to No Hands Productions from SPACES/Seymour Rosen, 8/15/1991

Invitation to Opening Reception of “Sermons in Paint”, 1987

Letter to John Turner from SPACES/Cynthia Pansing, 5/22/1988

Letter from Andy Nasisse, U of GA, 11/12/1987

Letter to the citizens of Summerville from James F. Arient, Naperville, IL, 11/13/1987

Letter from Liza Kirwin, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian, 12/11/1987

Letter to John Turner from Ann F. Oppenhimer, Folk Art Society of America, 10/7/1987

Letter from Victor Faccinto, Wake Forest Fine Arts Gallery, 12/1/1987

Letter from Alan Jabbour, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, 10/20/1987

Blank petition for preservation of Paradise Garden

Letter to SPACES/Seymour Rosen and Elaine Wintman from Susan Hankla, 11/8/1987

Letter to Susan Hankla from SPACES/Seymour Rosen, 1/11/1987

Article about Howard Finster

Flyer for Lo and Behold exhibition, 1988

Letter to John Turner from SPACES/Cynthia Pansing, 4/6/1988

Letter to John Turner from SPACES/Cynthia Pansing, 5/25/1988

Letter to Catherin Fox, Atlanta Journal/The Atlanta Constitution from SPACES/Seymour Rosen, 8/21/1987

Letter to SPACES/Seymour Rosen from Cathy Fox, Atlanta Journal/The Atlanta Constitution

Postcard for Koplin Gallery, 1986

Business card for Variety Shop

Flyer for evening with Howard FInster at Wake Forest, 4/12/1986

Xerox of flyer for Intuitive Art: Three Folk Artists exhibition, 1986

Letter to Howard Finster from Beth Coffelt

Flyer to SPACES/Seymour Rosen from Jeff Camp, American Folk Art Company and Victor Faccinto, Wake Forest University, 4/1981

Letter to SPACES/Seymour Rosen from Howard Finster, 12/27/1982

Letter from John Turner, Jargon Society, Inc, 1/1/1987

Draft of letter to Howard Finster from SPACES/Seymour Rosen, 12/1982

Letter to Peter F. Paul, CA Bicentennial Fnd for the U.S. Constitution from SPACES/Seymour Rosen, 10/18/1989

Information about Howard Finster Folk Art Festival at U of Richmond, 1984

Press Release for Paradise Garden, 10/27/1989

News Release about Howard Finster exhibition, 1989

Media news release from Smithsonian Institute: notification and info about Howard Finster exhibition “The Road to Heaven is Pave by Good Works”, 6/26/1990

Sponsorship Package for Finster Fest, 5/2012

Postcard of Howard Finster, 1983

Pamphlet for Paradise Gardens

Personal self-description of Howard Finster

Postcard for Howard Finster exhibition “The Road to Heaven is paved by good works”, 9/28/1989

Hand drawn map of Paradise Garden

Postcard for “Visionaries” exhbition, 1986

Postcard for Howard Finster’s “Paradise Garden” exhibition in Beverly Hills, 1989

Bumper sticker

pamphlet for Paradise Garden

letter from Jordan H. Poole, Paradise Garden Foundation




Map and site information

201-207 Rena St
Summerville, Georgia, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 34.513476 / -85.31678


We welcome visitors' comments about this site. If you have additional information you feel should be included, or have questions or comments, please share your thoughts with us here.

Leave Your Comment

The SPACES website allows you to save your favorite art environments and share them with your friends or colleagues. Create your own portfolio of your favorites from environments in the online collection.

Send them to your friends, post them on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter and tag #spacesarchives 

Look for this button on pages that can be saved:

Add Page to my spaces