Howard Finster

B. 1916
D. October 23, 2003
Lived Somerville, GA

Howard Finster was perhaps the best known self-taught artist of the modern era. Howard saw himself as a visitor from another planet, a modern Noah before the flood, sent here to spread the word of the Lord. God spoke directly to him through his visions, which inspired his paintings.

"On The Shores of Lormon" (1984 #3319) This painting is on an oval shaped board, one of the pieces of leftover wood from cutting out the windows on the top of his famous Folk Art Church, pictured below.

"The Black Panther" (1988, #7,371)

Howard's work holds a special place for me, as it was through him that I became interested in modern folk art. In 1988, he painted the cover for REM's second album, "Reckoning". As a big fan of the band at the time, I was fascinated with this visionary artist, and sought out as much information as I could about him. This led me to others of his type. While I've pretty much lost interest in REM's music, I'll always owe them a debt of gratitude for bringing the works of Finster to my attention.

Howard was never much of a fan of rock music like REM, or the Talking Heads for whom he also painted an album cover. However, he couldn't turn down a chance to get his message seen by millions of people.

"Elvis At 3 Is An Angel To Me" (1987, #6,754)

"Vision of Worlds To Come" (1985, #4881)

Over the course of his lifetime, Howard created more than 46,000 works of art (not even counting his earliest pieces, which were not numbered). At first the paintings were labors of love, painstakingly detailed with a tiny brush. Around the late 1980's, Howard switched from using all paint to using a combination of paint and magic markers. He had a good reason for doing this--it vastly sped up his ability to create works. One has to remember that Howard's reason for painting was to spread the word of God, as told to him in his visions. Being able to create more messages and reach more people was more important than doing fewer, more detailed paintings.

Because of this, his earlier works (pre-1989) are more sought after. I have a mix of both types, and I must say that the sharpie marker on some of the more recent pieces has started to fade.

"Hank Williams. The Sound of U.S.A." (1995, #38,270, an example of Finster's later work with magic markers)

"Abigrilla" (1988, #7,949)

Howard's greatest work was his amazing Paradise Garden. He spent 20 years building this environment. In it's prime, Paradise Garden must have been incredible. I didn't get to see the Garden until 1995, and by that time, there wasn't much left of it. When he realized that upkeep would be too much, Howard advertised the entire environment for sale in the Wall Street Journal. Sadly, he couldn't find a buyer for the whole thing, and over time, the Garden was carved up, with individual pieces sold off to collectors and museums. The High Museum in Atlanta has a nice recreation of part of the Garden, and it's well worth a visit.

To get a feel for the Garden in it's prime, I recommend Howard and Tom Patterson's book, "Howard Finster Stranger From Another World" which is filled with spectacular photographs.

The Garden is still open to visitors, and is host to Folk Art events throughout the year. More information can be found here.

Howard Finster's Folk Art Church

My last visit to Paradise Garden was an absolute treat. It was a slow Sunday and I had Howard to myself for much of the afternoon. He was a gracious host, playing songs and treating me to a banjo lesson. Our conversation ranged all over the place, from painting techniques to Howard's meeting with Johnny Carson to Howard's views on the Antichrist. I'm so glad I had a chance to meet this modern legend. His vision and his talent are already sorely missed.

"The Howling Wolf" (1987, #6,161)

"Cheetah" (1987, #6,160)


"Dinosaur" (1993, the first piece of Folk Art I ever bought)


Ronald and Jessie Cooper
Theresa Gloster