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This 2007 photo shows folk artist Howard Finster's World's Folk Art Church at Paradise Garden in Pennville, Ga.


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Folks who visit Paradise Garden in Summerville, Ga., in June for the annual Finster Fest Art and Music Festival will be greeted by a new museum.

The 1,000-square-foot structure is tucked away behind folk artist Howard Finster's former studio. It will include a media room in which visitors can sit on church pews and watch video footage of Finster. The retired Baptist minister had a vision in 1976 to paint sacred art and wound up creating about 47,000 pieces before his death in 2001.

"It really tells the story of Howard," said Jordan Poole, executive director of the Paradise Garden Foundation. "Him being on the Johnny Carson ['Tonight'] show and all of those things."

"People will be able to sit here and watch Howard," Poole said.

Other improvements made at the garden include repaired and new sidewalks through the swampy, four-acre collection of art, sculpture and buildings.

An underground wooden truss system now supports an enclosed, elevated walkway that was one of the structures that Finster built to display his art. It had become unstable in the silty soil.

"You don't even see it," Poole said of the underground truss made of marine-grade timber. "The timber framing acts like a snowshoe."

The new museum will be the only air-conditioned building on the site. It also will have a handicap-accessible restroom.

Funding comes from a $445,000 grant to operate and renovate Paradise Garden from ArtPlace, a national collaboration of 11 major foundations including the Ford, Rockefeller, Kresge and Andrew W. Mellon foundations; six of the nation's largest banks, such as Bank of America, Citi and Deutsche Bank; and eight federal agencies, one of which is the National Endowment for the Arts.

Chattooga County Sole Commissioner Jason Winters said in a statement when the grant was awarded that this "will allow us to expedite our work at the Howard Finster's Paradise Garden art environment as this site becomes a 'go-to' location for folk art enthusiasts from around the country."

FinsterFest will include free music in Summerville's Dowdy Park on June 8 and June 9. A "Man of Vision Concert" will be held June 8 featuring musicians Norman and Nancy Blake, retired Col. Bruce Hampton, Von Grey and Saint Francis. Tickets range from $10 to $35.

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Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at or 423-757-6651.