Howard started building the Garden as a roadside park in the 1960s. He often solicited friends, neighbors, children and later his grandchildren to help with the construction. In 1999, prior to Howard’s death in 2001, his daughter Beverly purchased the Garden and later incorporated the non profit Paradise Gardens Park & Museum, Inc.
In 2011 the non profit Paradise Gardens Park & Museum, Inc. sold the Garden to Chattooga County. Chattooga County leased the property to the Chattooga County Development Authority who then leased the property to Paradise Garden Foundation, Inc.
Chattooga County obtained a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission in 2012 to purchase the property. Much appreciation is given to James Thompson, Earl Gold, Tom Hunter, Leamon Scott for their unwavering belief in this project.
Special acknowledgement is also given to Jack Pyburn of Lord, Aeck & Sargent for his comprehensive Site Management Plan which serves as a guide to the renovation, organizational and operational process.
This revival was made possible in large part by a grant from Art Place America and the Educational Foundation of America, and many Howard Finster fans and supporters.
“My Garden is a way for me to get my message out all over the world, And that’s my responsibility, Someday, sometime, people on this planet are going to realize that they need what Howard Finster’s got, whether it’s religion, whether it’s art or whether it’s building a Garden.” -Howard Finster
The Paradise Garden Foundation has been given a sacred and an earthly responsibility and we hope that this first Annual Report will allow the reader the opportunity to examine its progress to date. In Howard’s own words, “Buildin’ that Garden was just like one long vision, with God aguidin’ me ever’ step o’ the way, ashowin’ me how to follow His blueprint.” It is the mission and vision of this Foundation to follow that blueprint that Howard established not so many years ago.
The Paradise Garden Foundation came into existence because it was clear that local support and local commitment was going to be key to the success of this project. A 10 member Board of local citizens began to meet monthly to follow Howard’s Blueprint and to utilize the recommendations found in the Site Management Plan prepared by Lord, Aeck & Sargent. It was a daunting proposition, but now two years later, we look at the Garden, listen to the inspiration we hear daily from visitors and know we are on the right path. There is still much work to be done, but we feel confident that Howard is probably guidin’ us ever’ step of the way.
It is evident in talking with people that there are three very distinct parts to the Garden project…Faith…art…and an economic engine for Chattooga County. Some people only see the spiritual nature of the Garden…some only see the art…and others may see both but also see that it can draw cultural tourism to an economically distressed part of Georgia and help boost the local economy. It is the job of the Foundation to balance all three of these elements in order to make this project a success.
At his core, Howard Finster was a Baptist preacher. Every step one takes in the Garden, there is evidence of that deep and abiding Christian faith and his mission and vision was to spread The Word all over the world…and after having a vision at the age of 59, art was the medium by which he did that. To many, the Garden is a sanctuary. It may be the only church some people will ever attend.
It is paramount to the Foundation that the Garden continue to speak Howard’s message. Whether by the videos of Howard in the Garden shown in the Visitor’s Center or by replacing the original artwork throughout the Garden, Howard remains the Chaplain of his Garden and his voice will always be heard.
Future programming will encourage church groups, Vacation Bible Schools and religious scholars to come and enjoy, and study, Finster. The Artist in Residence home is also a place where a person can come and spend a spiritual retreat at the Garden as they absorb its messages.
Howard always said “a minister can come in here and bring a sinner and take him round and read him into the Kingdom of God.” The Foundation understands clearly that first and foremost that was Howard’s purpose…“That is what I want to do when the world comes together, to make peace with one another…”
The lessons Howard taught with his Garden are just as relevant today as they were during his time on this planet. A strong work ethic from dawn ‘till dusk, and after, built the Garden…Incorporating his family and friends to help him built friendships…planting vegetables and having fruit trees “allowed a hungry man to walk through the Garden and get a 5 course meal” and of course recycling, “I took the pieces you threw away, put them togather by night and day. Washed by rain, dried by sun. A million pieces all in one.” The Garden of “God’s junk man” teaches repurposing and recycling in a way no classroom can. Howard loved God’s earth and he “never met a person he didn’t love.” He was the planet’s caretaker and his Garden was the place people came for his brand of nourishment.
Howard Finster’s faith compelled him to build this Garden and it will be the responsibility of the Foundation to ensure that those messages of faith will always be heard. The other day one of our staffers was in the local McDonald’s and started talking to a woman at the counter. She had cancer and was having a rough time, but she told him she had visited the Garden for the first time a few days earlier and it made her feel so much better since then. It is stories like that every day that we hear, that we just say “Amen.”
To the Art World there is no doubt Howard Finster was a genius. Paradise Garden is considered by many as his most important piece of art. There is not a major Museum in America that does not own a Finster as part of their collection. The Garden was selected as a grant recipient by Art Place America to preserve this national treasure. This outdoor art environment is treasured nationally and internationally today and visitors still come from all over the world to see it.
Ironically, one of the Foundation’s greatest challenges has been to enlighten the local north Georgia community about just how widespread Howard’s reach is. The newly constructed Visitor’s Center tells his story while also showing his process and how he created his special style of visionary folk art. Most people leave the Garden wanting to go home and make something. Someone once said “Folk Art is happy art” and there is no doubt that Howard Finster’s art brings great joy and contemplation to the people who viewed it.
Howard often said, “ My work is scrubby. It’s bad, nasty art. But it’s telling something. You don’t have to be a perfect artist to work in art.” The Foundation is committed to making sure the Garden continues to encourage other artists and to continue to spread Howard’s art around the world. The Gift Shop allows everyone to take a little piece of Howard home with them and that was indeed his mission. Future programming will encourage the inner artist to come out in people of all ages. The Art Camp and Artist in Residence house will allow students to come and study Finster. Howard Finster did not begin to paint art until his vision at the age of 59. Again, his life and the Garden can teach others his age and older what potential may be ahead for them.
Chattooga County is one of the most economically disadvantaged counties in the Appalachian Region. Chattooga County is also one of Georgia’s most beautiful communities as it is nestled in the majestic north Georgia mountains. The ARC gave the grant to the county because they saw the potential for it to attract cultural tourism to the area and thus serve as an economic engine for the county to grow and diversify its economy.
Paradise Garden is also known worldwide (This summer there is an exhibit in Paris, France of Finster work!) and that is very evident today as visitors still come from all over the world to see the Garden. Howard Finster loved the whole concept of a roadside park. There is no doubt that Howard would have welcomed the tourists and the attention his Garden attracted. When people come to the Garden they shop in the stores, eat in the restaurants and hopefully decide to move or retire here or to locate their business in this little slice of paradise.
In addition to the draw of cultural tourism to the region, the Garden also fosters and encourages local artists and craftsmen. Over 40 locals earn their living from their craft and each year Finster Fest allows them the opportunity to showcase their talents to a larger audience. This year the foundation also sponsored the Man of Vision Concert which allowed local musicians an opportunity to be heard by a regional audience and since this project began two art galleries have opened in the County.
The Foundation also partnered with the County to open an outdoor entertainment area in downtown Summerville which also showcases Howard’s art and tells his story so that each person that comes in the town knows this is indeed “Paradise” – the home of Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden.