Two toy cannons created by Howard Finster, provided

Long before his eccentric religious artwork took the folk art world by storm, Howard Finster was an accomplished woodworker. Open now at Paradise Garden, the museum that used to be his home, is an exhibition featuring 48 pieces that include wooden mantle clocks, toys, dollhouse furniture, and more. The exhibit, Howard Finster Before He Painted: Wood Creations from the ‘50s to ‘70s, will be on display through Sun., May 7. 

While most folk art fans are most familiar with the woodcut paintings that he inscribed with spiritual messages and displayed throughout his two story home and surrounding gardens, now known as Paradise Garden, in Trion, GA, these wooden artworks give insight into his multi-faceted and multi-talented artistic vision. 

Finster was no stranger to woodworking. He had grown up in a farmhouse that his father, a farmer, had milled in Valley Head, Alabama, so he saw woodworking up close and personal from an early age.  “The first art I made, really, was when I was about sixteen or seventeen years old, and I started doin’ woodwork,” recalled Finster in the book Howard Finster: Stranger from Another World, Man of Visions, Now on This Earth

A toy car created by Howard Finster in the exhibit “Howard Finster Before He Painted: Wood Creations from the ‘50s to ‘70s,” on view at Paradise Garden through May 7. Provided.

As a young man Finster had been drawn to woodworking, and he built a home-made lathe on which he turned wood from spare parts from finds like an old Model-T generator into a full-size bed, lamps, and toy cannons. He also learned to make black walnut jugs which he sold as talcum powder shakers. Later, Finster used these same skills when he built the Chelsea Baptist Church in Menlo where he served as the parish from 1950 to 1965, his longest tenure as a minister. As a parent, Finster created dollhouse furniture, bookcases, toy cars, cabinets, clocks, and more for his kids. 

Finster created an impressive 46,991 numbered artworks during his lifetime, mostly paintings, after he experienced a vision in 1976 during which he felt there was a God-like voice speaking to him and commanding that he create “sacred art.” But the woodworks that are on display in this exhibit offer a deeper perspective into the artistic talents of this beloved folk artist. The show adds to the complexity of this man whose desire to create predated his spiritual calling. 

The never-before-exhibited pieces on display during this showcase are on loan from Larry and Jane Schlachter, owners of Folk America Gallery and Summerville Trade Day. A select few will be for sale and there will also be some pieces from the Paradise Garden Foundation archive on view. Folk art lovers should not miss this unique opportunity to see these works in person. On display now through Sun., May 7.

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Isadora Pennington

Isadora Pennington is a freelance writer and photographer based in Atlanta. She is the editor of Sketchbook by Rough Draft, a weekly Arts newsletter.