published Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Paradise Gardens added to National Register of Historic Places

Howard Finster's Paradise Gardens in Summerville, Ga., is  added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Photo by Charlie Miller, Georgia Department of Natural Resources/Historic Preservation
Howard Finster's Paradise Gardens in Summerville, Ga., is added to the National Register of Historic Places. Photo by Charlie Miller, Georgia Department of Natural Resources/Historic Preservation
Photo by Associated Press.

ON THE WEB

For more information about Paradise Gardens and Finster Fest, go to www.finstersparadiseGardenss.org.

Thousands of visitors are expected in Summerville, Ga., on May 5-6 for Finster Fest, a celebration of folk artist Howard Finster.

Fans will have something extra to party about this year, because his lifelong masterpiece, Paradise Gardens, a four-acre maze of buildings, sculptures and found art, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"We're very pleased," said Chattooga County Sole Commissioner Jason Winters. "This designation just helps our efforts."

The county used donations and a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to buy the property in February for $125,000.

Finster's artwork has been exhibited around the world, including the Smithsonian Institution. In 1983, the Athens, Ga., rock band R.E.M. used one of his paintings for the cover of its second album, "Reckoning." Two years later, the New York band Talking Heads commissioned Finster to make a painting for the cover of their album, "Little Creatures," which was selected by Rolling Stone as the album cover of the year.

The nonprofit Paradise Gardens Foundation was formed in January to operate, maintain and restore the Gardens. The foundation is led by Executive Director Jordan Poole, a Summerville native who is the foundation's sole paid employee.

Typically to get listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a property has to be at least 50 years old, but Finster founded the Gardens in 1961 and worked on it until 1992, Poole said.

"This is unique, because this is not a traditional 50-years-or-older listing," he said.

Paradise Gardens is the second "visionary art environment" in Georgia to make the list. Pasaquan, seven acres of psychedelic art in the woods near Buena Vista in Marion County, got on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.

"There's really not that many of them in the U.S.," said Gretchen Brock of Georgia's Historic Preservation Division. "We are extremely lucky to have two."

Finster Fest, which has free admission, will be held the first weekend in May at Dowdy Park in downtown Summerville. Shuttles will take visitors to Paradise Gardens. Musical entertainment will include Patterson Hood of The Drive-By Truckers and Roger Alan Wade.

Then, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday this summer, the foundation's volunteers plan to lead tours at Paradise Gardens from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for a suggested donation of $10 per visitor.

This story was edited on April 11, 2012. The name of Jordan Poole, executive director of the nonprofit Paradise Gardens Foundation, was incorrect.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township┬╣s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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