May 3, 2012

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Nothing sums up the simplicity of southern culture better than folk art. And the Picasso of folk art, the late Rev. Howard Finster, delivered the most noted representations of how many in the rural South view the outside world.

Inspired by God to spread the gospel through more than 46,000 pieces of art, Finster first came to widespread notice in the 1980s with his album cover designs for bands such as R.E.M. and Talking Heads.

So great was his influence on the art world, and his hometown, that The Paradise Garden Foundation is once again celebrating his life’s work at Finster Fest, to be held this weekend in Summerville, Ga.

Patterson Hood of the Drive-by Truckers, Roger Alan Wade and Lee Bains III & Glory Fires will join other musicians in downtown Summerville’s Dowdy Park to celebrate Finster’s legacy and his most-prized creation, Paradise Gardens, located just blocks down the street.

Even though his works hang in major galleries around the world, Finster’s best-known art installation can be found right in his own backyard. Paradise Gardens is a wonderful maze of walkways, buildings and nooks filled with thousands of pieces of Finster’s visionary art. A pilgrimage destination for artists such as Keith Haring and musicians like R.E.M., these two sacred acres contain thousands of inspiring works of art that were originally conceived in the late seventies and continually honed until Finster’s death in 2001.

Since then, however, the Gardens have fallen into disrepair, forcing Finster’s family to sell the tourist attraction a few years ago. Chattooga County purchased the site earlier this year with the help of donations from locals and a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal economic development entity.

“Our goal is to save this local, national and internationally renowned art site while creating a sustainable heritage tourism destination to promote our local economy,” Chattooga County Commissioner Jason Winters said.

The new Paradise Garden Foundation, headed by Jordan H. Poole, the former restoration manager at George Washington’s historic Mount Vernon home, is developing a site-management plan and will direct a new fundraising campaign for restorations. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has also agreed to help attract visitors, which organizers hope will maintain the momentum of interest generated at each year’s Finster Fest.

What began as Howard Finster Day in Summerville in the early 1980s has become internationally known as Finster Fest, one of North Georgia’s most popular folk art and music festivals. In addition to performances from The Bohannons and the Shaking Ray Levi Society among others, Finster Fest 2012 will host artists from all over the country, coming together to celebrate Finster’s legacy. There will also be a recycled art project for all to participate in and enjoy. Tours will be held at Paradise Gardens during festival hours and shuttles will be available between the Gardens and Dowdy Park.

Finster Fest

10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, May 5

Noon to 5 p.m., Sunday May 6

Dowdy Park in Summerville, Ga.

Entertainment Line-Up

• Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers

• Roger Alan Wade

• It’s Hard to be Lew Card

• Lee Bains III Glory & Fires

• The Bohannons

• New Binkley Brothers

• Shaking Ray Levi Society

• Molly Conley


May 3, 2012

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