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Despite having only a sixth-grade education, Howard Finster became a preacher at age sixteen and dedicated his life to spreading the gospel. In 1976, more than four decades after his ordination, he said he received a vision from God to create 5,000 sacred works of art; by his death in 2001, he’d completed nearly 47,000.
Nearly 50 years ago, God inspired Howard Finster to build Paradise Garden, an enormous display of sculptures and paintings scattered among a mirror-covered tree house, a tornado of rusted bicycles, and a towering church. Now Airbnb makes it easy to spend the night there.
Starting in the mid-’70s on a quiet street on the outskirts of Summerville, the late Howard Finster—a former Baptist minister and self-proclaimed “man of visions”—created 46,991 individually numbered outsider artworks dedicated to God on a four-acre compound dubbed Paradise Garden.
One sunny Sunday afternoon almost thirty years ago, Robert Sherer and two coworkers from the Lefont Theaters piled into a junker car to make the ninety-minute drive up to Pennville, a tiny Appalachian community where churches outnumber stoplights on the outskirts of Summerville. The punk rockers were on a “pilgrimage to Paradise”—the otherworldly garden created by Howard Finster, the Baptist preacher whose transformation into an artist had made him a quasi-celebrity.