Summerville, Georgia: Howard Finster's Paradise Garden Team Field Report

200 N. Lewis St., Summerville, GA
North edge of town. From US Hwy 27 turn east onto Underwood Dairy Rd. Drive three blocks, then turn right onto N. Lewis St. Paradise Garden will be the last house on the right, just south of Rena St. Pay no attention to the maximum security prison on the left.
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Adults $15, Students $5
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Visitor Tips and News About Howard Finster's Paradise Garden

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Howard Finster's Paradise Garden.

Howard Finster's Paradise Garden

Wasn't much of a garden in the true sense of the word on a dreary January afternoon, but a fantastical oasis of folk art nonetheless. A lot of the "sacred works of art" have gone through a serious amount of wear and disrepair since Howard's passing, but it doesn't take away from their beauty in the slightest. Looking forward to a trip back in the warmer months to try and catch a glimpse of the "garden" in all its glory.

[Chelsea Millette, 02/01/2017]
Howard Finster's Paradise Gardens

Went to visit Paradise on 5/24. The office and shop were closed up, but we were able to do a self-guided tour and visit all of the gardens. A lot of it is still a bit of a shambles, continuing to give worry that the remaining parts may not be rescued in time. The World's Folk Art Chapel remains closed due to unsafe conditions.

A new contemporary building is under construction. It looks like it may become a small exhibit space or an events space (Finster performed many weddings in the chapel and surrounding gardens). The ground is quite boggy in some areas and here and there has an unpleasant septic smell. Still worth a visit and walk through!

As we were leaving the gardens, we noticed that one of the houses sharing a property line with the gardens is a gallery. There is also a large vinyl banner proclaiming that Finster's heirs and descendants strongly object to the Foundation's handling of the gardens.

We saw a man weed-eating the yard at the gallery and flagged him down. As it happened, the fellow was (or claimed to be, anyhow) one of Finster's grandsons. He explained the banner, which seemed to boil down to a theologically driven difference of opinion about the whos and hows of managing the garden in keeping with Finster's vision. The house/gallery itself had once been used as the public entrance to the gardens.

He was kind enough to offer to open up the gallery for us, which he said had not been opened in several years. The soul of hospitality, he showed us around the small information exhibits in the building, pointed out what pieces were Finster's, gifted to him directly, gifted to the gardens, and later items inspired by the gardens. He spent a long time talking with us about parts of the garden he helped build when his grandfather was still building ($1 an hour to help with the bottle house, which he spent on candy in town).

As we were setting out to leave, he also let us know that another house just down the block had been the house where Finster lived, and is called the Vision House. The house is another gallery operated by a different Finster relation, and is open by appointment. While we didn't visit at the right time, we're given the understanding that the outsider art festival held annually in Summerville is worth a visit all its own.

[Hilary Williams, 06/01/2013]
Finster's Paradise Gardens

Finster's Paradise Gardens is open, and people are working hard to restore the place. It is well worth the trip. While the chapel is currently closed while they fix it up, there is still plenty to see. You can tell that this place was a huge part of the man's life and it shows the love, dedication and passion he had for what he saw as his life's calling. If you're visiting, contact one of the people running it ahead of time, and they're generally happy to let you in, show you around the place, and tell you about it.

[Daniel, 03/01/2009]

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