Reverend Howard Finster (1916-2001)

Reverend Howard Finster, My Guarding Angel, oil on wood panel with decorated frame, n.d.

Reverend Howard Finster, Unknown Worlds, enamel on wood, 1986

Reverend Howard Finster, Young George Washington, enamel paint on wood, 1983

Howard Finster was born at Valley Head, Alabama, and lived on the family farm as one of 13 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.” 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 room on his land in Trion in 1961, he moved to Pennville, Georgia, and bought four acres of land to build what he called his Plant Farm Museum “to show all the wonderful things of God’s Creation, kinda like the Garden of Eden.” It included every kind of edible plant that would grow in his local climate and featured such individual 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, a polygonal five-story “Folk Art Chapel.” Throughout the garden he put up signs with Bible verses on them because “he felt that they stuck in people’s heads better that way.”

Finster retired from preaching in 1965 to focus all of his time on improving the Plant Farm Museum. In 1976 he had another vision to paint sacred art. “[O]ne day I was working on a patch job on a bicycle, and I was rubbing some white paint on that patch with this finger here, and I looked at the round tip of my finger, and there was a human face on it . . . then a warm feeling come over my body, and a voice spoke to me and said, ‘Paint sacred art.’” After initially setting out to do 5,000 paintings to spread the gospel, his works eventually numbered in the tens of thousands, as the entire family got involved in their production, making him one of the most prolific artists in history.