Paradise Gardens in Pennville, Georgia, is a visionary-art environment that contains several hundred pieces of art created by visionary artist Howard Finster (1915-2001) during his residency there between 1961 and 1991. The property, historically significant on the national level due to the exceptional and largely intact example of Finster’s visionary-art environment, includes several Finster houses, studios and a chapel where the artist lived, worked and conducted religious ceremonies. The buildings are interconnected by a series of covered bridges, concrete walkways, and concrete sculptures.
Howard Finster is among the most significant artists in Georgia history and is recognized as one of the most important American folk artists of the 20th century. Born in Valley Head, Alabama, Finster, along with being a Baptist preacher, held a variety of jobs. His work changed dramatically in January 1976 when he received a vision that commanded him to “paint sacred art,” which he followed by painting biblical scenes. In 1982, the Athens, Georgia, rock band R.E.M. filmed the music video for the song “Radio Free Europe” at Paradise Gardens. Finster who had previously met Michael Stripe, the band’s founder and lead singer, appeared in the video. Stripe later asked Finster to design the cover for the Reckoning album. In 1985 he painted the cover album art for the Little Creatures record by the new wave band Talking Heads. Finster’s fame continued to grow, and in 1996, the Coca-Cola Company commissioned Finster to decorate a massive Coca-Cola bottle that was displayed during the Atlanta Summer Olympic Games. After Finster moved to nearby Summerville, Georgia, in 1991 he continued to paint and add to Paradise Gardens until his death in 2001. Paradise Gardens, which is less than 50 years of age, has been recognized by art historians, art museums, art critics, preservation advocates, and government agencies as an exceptional example of a 20th-century visionary-art environment in America.
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