Claiming to have had religious visions as early as the age of two, Howard Finster (1916 – 2001) lived his entire life inspired by directives sent him from God. As an adult, he served as a Southern Baptist minister for 40 years. Yet, frustrated from preaching to impassive congregations, he retired. Moving from his small Alabama town to mid-state Georgia, Finster’s new vision was to be born out of his sideline occupation as a repairman. God’s directive to the now handyman/scrap collector was that he convert the acreage surrounding his repair shop to a sacred place. Heeding the command, Finster called it Paradise Garden. There, he began the rescue of all things most people might regard as garbage. Instead of preaching, Finster’s inspiration for spreading the word of God would now come through the creation of art; converting junk into paintings, sculpture, architecture; all of it proclaiming, metaphorically, physically and visually, the transformational power of his Lord God. Buildings, sidewalks, towers, his art infused efforts led to his formation of the World’s Folk Art Church, Inc.
Howard Finster became renowned for both his art and his “worlds beyond” perspective. Appearing occasionally as guest on Johnny Carson’s late night “The Tonight Show”, people became exposed to both his homespun humor and exotic visionary experiences. His influence also appealed to young hip audiences, including fans of rock groups like R.E.M. and The Talking Heads, as Finster was commissioned by these groups and others to design noteworthy album covers, converting an ever younger audience of believers and fans to become collectors of his work.
Finster’s appeal was not limited only to the young nor to the “pop” world, as he steadily gained important recognition by the serious art collecting world as well. Today his works can be found in numerous museums world-wide, including the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Museum of American Folk Art, NY, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Museum of art, and in 1984, Howard Finster was selected to represent the United States of America in that year’s Venice Biennale.
(Image: Howard Finster, George Meets Martha Custers at Age 23, #3000 and 500 May 8, 1984 20 x 24 inches)