World-renowned folk artist Howard Finster was a sixth-grade dropout who became a preacher with visions. His work was featured all over the world, including SoHo galleries in New York and R.E.M. album covers, but he lived a simple life in rural north Georgia.
Over the years, he transformed his house and its surrounding buildings into work of art themselves, covered in mosaics and paintings. Even while he lived there, the property known as Paradise Garden became a tourist attraction. It was taken over by a local foundation in 2012 and is now open every week.
Start your trip at the visitor’s center, which has a short video on the artist’s life and rise to fame. Here you’ll also find a gallery with his coffin, the certificate from his Kentucky colonel honor, and smaller works.
From there, you’ll exit through the back and see the circular chapel with Tibetan prayer flags hanging from it. Don’t forget to look down, as you’ll see mosaics in the sidewalk and the house cat roaming at your feet.
Around the back of the house, you’ll find Howard’s headstone and his car that he decorated over the years with his drawings. There’s an outbuilding that features random pieces of metal, all organized by size and object. Lamps hang from the ceiling, dusty from disuse.
Later down the path, there’s a monument built to a body found nearby that was 100 years old when Finster moved to Pennville. A long hallway features art from both Finster and his contemporaries. Don’t miss the gardens, the highlight of the museum.
The garden is the site of weddings and special events and the foundation holds Finster Fest every spring. Should you want to stay longer, they have an artist-in-residence program and rent out an apartment here via Airbnb.
If You Go
Paradise Garden is located at 200 North Lewis Street, Summerville, GA 30747, about two hours north of Atlanta via I-75. They’re open Thursday to Sunday from 12 to 4 pm, but change seasonally, so check the website for details before you make the trek. Call (706) 808-0800 if you get lost. If you reach the prison, you’ve gone too far. Admission is $5 for adults.