Saving a Folk Artist’s Paradise, Lost to Weeds and Ruin, Is a Tangled Affair (GEORGIA)





PENNVILLE, Ga., Oct. 21 — To understand how Howard Finster, a Baptist preacher and bicycle repairman, became one of the most notable folk artists in the world, it is worth a visit to where it all started: the tiny white wooden house in this hamlet, tucked into the state’s northwestern corner.

It was in the Howard Finster Vision House, a name it has acquired since his death in 2001, that Mr. Finster said he was directed by God to stop repairing bicycles and paint “sermon art.” And it was here, years later, that he made a “garden of paradise,” a sprawling art environment he lovingly tended for 30 years that many consider to be his greatest work.

In these Paradise Gardens, as they are now called, Mr. Finster salvaged and transformed everyday objects into whimsical statues, mosaics and playhouses. He collected and saved so much junk for his art projects at one point that he had to make a deal to appease his wife, Pauline. She could have the front half of the house and its tidy front porch, if he could have the back of the house and its garden.

Today it is Mr. Finster’s legacy that seems divided, almost along those same boundaries.


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