(From the Paradise Garden Foundation):

The exhibition “Howard Finster Before He Painted: Wood Creations from the ’50s to ’70s” will open this Saturday, February 18th and continue through May 7th at Paradise Garden in Summerville.

This special art exhibit showcases a little-known side of Rev. Howard Finster long before he became one of the 20th century’s best-known folk artists. The exhibit showcases Finster’s talent with wooden mantel clocks, toys, and dollhouse furniture.

Finster created an astounding 46,991 numbered artworks, most of them paintings, between 1976 and his death in 2001. Though many familiar with his bigger-than-life story assume that a fully formed artist was born the day in 1976 when a God-like voice commanded that he should “paint sacred art,” Finster was then already an accomplished woodworker. That is a different kind of creative expression for which he is famous but one, the Paradise Garden Foundation believes, worthy of study and appreciation on its own terms.

Woodworking was in the Finster bloodlines. Howard grew up in a farmhouse built from boards saw-milled by his farmer-father in Valley Head, Alabama. Finster’s first wooden creations were a full-size bed, lamps, and toy cannons. Soon, he was producing multiple little black-walnut jugs for sale that were used as talcum powder shakers. 

Howard and Pauline Finster’s daughter Thelma Finster Bradshaw explained in her book Howard Finster: The Early Years that her father “simply enjoyed the art of creating – whether it was a house, a ‘mansion,’ a kitchen cabinet or a doll-sized set of living room furniture.”

Finster later honed his carpentry skills while planning and constructing a home for Chelsea Baptist Church in Menlo. Using these woodworking skills on a smaller scale, Finster also created dollhouse furniture for his young daughters, rolling toy cars for his son, bookcases, tables, kitchen cabinets, and floor and mantel clocks. As he had as a teenager, he created his own woodworking tools, for example, using bicycle chains to create decorative edges.

Larry and Jane Schlachter, owners of Folk America Gallery and Summerville Trade Day, have generously loaned these never-before-exhibited woodworks for the exhibit that were created from the 1950s to the 1970s. A few rare pieces will be sold during the exhibit. A small selection of objects from the Paradise Garden Foundation archive will also be on view.

Howard Finster Before He Painted: Wood Creations from the ‘50s to ‘70s will run from February 18 to May 7, 2023 and will be on view during Paradise Garden’s regular operating hours, 11 am-5 pm Tuesdays through Sundays. For questions about the exhibit, please call 706-808-0800 or email [email protected]