HOWARD FINSTER Biography - Other artists & entretainers


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Name: Howard Finster                                                                 
Born: 2 December 1916                                                                 
Died: 22 October 2001                                                                 
The Reverend Howard Finster (December 2, 1916- October 22, 2001) was a folk           
artist from Summerville, Georgia who claimed to be inspired by God to spread the     
gospel through the environment of Paradise Garden and over 46,000 pieces of art.     
Finster was born at Valley Head, Alabama and lived on the family farm as one of       
thirteen children. He attended school from age six into the sixth grade. He said     
he had his first vision at three years old, when he saw his recently deceased         
sister Abbie Rose walking down out of the sky wearing a white gown. She told him,     
"Howard, you're gonna be a man of visions."                                           
He became "born again" at a Baptist revival at the age of 13 and began to preach     
at 16. He gave the occasional sermon at local churches and wrote articles for         
the town newspaper, and became a full-time pastor at Rock Bridge Baptist Church       
in 1940.                                                                             
Finster started building his first garden park museum in Trion, Georgia in the       
late 1940s. It featured an exhibit on the inventions of mankind in which Finster     
planned to display one of everything that had ever been invented, models of           
houses and churches, a pigeon flock and a duck pond.                                 
When he ran out of land in Trion in 1961, he moved to Pennville, GA and bought       
four acres (16,000 m²) of land upon which to build the Plant Farm Museum "to         
show all the wonderful things o' God's Creation, kinda like the Garden of Eden"       
(Finster 1989, p. 108). It features such attractions as the "Bible House," "the       
Mirror House," "the Hubcap Tower," "the Bicycle Tower," "the Machine Gun Nest,"       
and the largest structure in the garden, the five-story "Folk Art Chapel." He         
also started putting up signs with Bible verses on them because "he felt that         
they stuck in people's heads better that way."                                       
He retired from preaching in 1965 and focused all of his time on improving the       
Plant Farm Museum. In 1976, he had another vision to paint sacred art. And one       
day I was workin' on a patch job on a bicycle, and I was rubbin' some white           
paint on that patch with this finger here, and I looked at the round tip o' my       
finger, and there was a human face on it... then a warm feelin' come over my         
body, and a voice spoke to me and said, 'Paint sacred art.' (Finster 1989, p.         
His images range from pop culture icons like Elvis Presley to historical figures     
like George Washington to religious images like The Devils Vice and "John the         
Baptist" to his own visions. His paintings are colorful and detailed; they use       
flat picture plane without perspective and are often covered with words,             
especially Bible verses. Every painting also has a number; God had asked him to       
do 5,000 paintings to spread the gospel and he wanted to keep track.                 
He finished the 5,000 a few days before Christmas in 1985, but continued             
painting and numbering until the day he died. By 1989, he was already numbering       
in the ten thousands.                                                                 
He first started receiving outside publicity in 1975. That year, Atlanta, GA         
television station Channel 5 ran a story and he also appeared in an Esquire           
magazine article that first dubbed his museum Paradise Garden. He made his first     
exhibition appearance in 1976 and painted four paintings for the Library of           
Congress in 1977. He was also selected to be part of the Venice Biennale in 1984.     
Finster gained national fame after his collaborative work with Athens, Georgia-based 
rock band R.E.M.. The group filmed the video for their debut single Radio Free       
Europe in Finster's Paradise Gardens in 1983. The following year, the band's         
singer Michael Stipe and Finster collaborated on a painting for the cover of         
their second album Reckoning. After that the band made the song Maps and Legends     
(in its third album "Fables of the Reconstruction") as an homage to Finster.         
Along with R.E.M., Finster also appeared in the documentary film Athens, GA:         
Inside Out, filmed in 1985, in which he tells the story of how he came to be an       
The Talking Heads commissioned a Finster painting for Little Creatures in 1985       
that was subsequently selected as album cover of the year by Rolling Stone           
magazine. Other artists to use Finster as an album cover designer include Memory     
Dean, Pierce Pettis, and Adam Again. In 1994, a portion of his Paradise Garden       
was installed as part of the permanent collection of Atlanta's High Museum. Bill     
Mallonee, himself a Christian, of the Vigilantes of Love (also from Athens,           
Georgia) wrote a song inspired by Finster's artwork called The Glory and the         
Dream in 1994.                                                                       
Howard Finster was responsible for introducing millions to outsider art, but         
even with his fame, he remained focused on spreading the word of God. He said of     
the Talking Heads album, "I think there's twenty-six religious verses on that         
first cover I done for them. They sold a million records in the first two and a       
half months after it come out, so that's twenty-six million verses I got out         
into the world in two and a half months!".