At the end of last year, my brothers were thinking of prematurely selling Mom’s home of three decades in Santa Fe. What could I do? I decided to drive out to see her colonial home, perhaps for the last time, and take an inventory of her many paintings. But what route? With Mom, then, nearly at death’s door, I chose to visit Gardens of Revelation on the long haul west. I was gifted a book by the same name, subtitled Environments by Visionary Artists, and liked the idea. Mom is a visionary in her own way, now cultivating her last garden.
First up, Paradise Garden in northwest Georgia. Howard Finster, born one of thirteen children in an Appalachian family, became a Baptist preacher and was pastor of the World’s Folk Art Church, a self-described “man of visions,” “a second Noah” who came to earth “to point the people to the world beyond.” The “museum park,” begun in the early 60’s, was motivated this way: “…it just come to me that the world started with a beautiful garden, so why not let it end with a beautiful garden?” [please hover over images for captions]
Started on two acres of swamp, the garden stayed strong until Howard, the outsider artist who amazingly became a lionized, insider one, died at the turn of the millennium. The garden slept for a decade or more, returning to dust, until a local (a teenager at Howard’s death) got the site listed as a “place in peril” with Georgia preservation and then added to the National Register. Locals, who were once skeptical of his “junk art Eden,” came to the rescue. That same teenager now runs the attraction, saying, “Some folks still think it’s a trash dump that should be bulldozed. I’m still selling my parents on the project.”
A few of Howard’s many pithy messages:
I began painting pictures in Jan -1976- without any training…
A person don’t know what he can do unless he tryes.
Trying things is the answer to find your talent.
I took the pieces you threw away –
put them together by night & day –
washed by rain and dried by sun,
a million pieces … all in one.
References: Beardsley, John, Gardens of Revelation: Environments by Visionary Artists, 1995, Abbeville Press Publishers, NY; RoadsideAmerica.com’s page “Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden.”