By heading across the border to Georgia, you can take a quick trip to Paradise.
Nestled in Summerville, Georgia is Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden.
Finster, who was born in Valley Head, Alabama in 1916, called himself a man of visions and said he had his first vision when he was just three years old.
He began preaching at the age of 16 and was pastor at both the Rock Bridge Baptist Church and the Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Fort Payne.
After retiring from preaching to dedicate himself full-time to what he planned to be the Plant Farm Museum, “to show all the wonderful things o’ God’s Creation, kinda like the Garden of Eden,“ he had a vision to paint sacred art. Paradise Garden is the result of some of that work.
Finster gained fame as an artist after creating album covers for bands like the Talking Heads and R.E.M. The latter filmed their video Radio Free Europe at Paradise Garden.
Finster originally planned to paint 5,000 pieces of art but by the time of his death in 2001, his works numbered in the tens of thousands. He was the original “upcycler” as there was nothing he wouldn’t use and no surface he wouldn’t paint on.
Of Paradise Garden Finster said, “Buildin’ that Garden was just like one long vision, with God a-guidin’ me ever’ step o’ the way, a-showin’ me how to follow His blueprint.”
At Paradise Garden, visitors can stroll mosaicked paths featuring broken glass, tools, statues and even old bicycle parts. Along those paths, guests encounter the centerpiece of the Garden: the World’s Folk Art Church. The church is 40 feet high with sixteen sides and a circular staircase. You currently can’t go inside but it is still something to behold.
Other structures include the Oakland Barn, the Giant’s Shoe, the Bicycle Tower, the Mosaic Garden and the Bottle House. The Mirror House, on stilts in the center of the garden, is mirrored both inside and out reflecting the garden and the people within it. Standing inside the Mirror House is a treat—and is especially surreal if you’re in there all alone.
All-in-all, Paradise Garden is a mosaic wonderland that’s simply a visual feast. I’ve noticed different things every time I’ve visited.
Visiting Paradise Garden:
It’s about a two-hour drive from Huntsville. The trip takes you through Mentone where I suggest stopping for lunch at the Wildflower Café. Admission to Paradise Garden is $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and $5 for students. They’re currently open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm. Keep in mind that Summerville is in the Eastern Time Zone.
Pro Tip: Make sure you stop in the Gift Shop where you’ll find everything from books and t-shirts to prints of Howard’s work and art cast from actual items in the Mosaic Garden.