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Howard Finster

January 15, 2010 - June 18, 2010


Selections from the LUAG Teaching Collection/ OUTSIDER ART


A self-proclaimed “Man of Visions,” Howard Finster (1916-2001) was one of America’s most widely known and prolific self-taught artists, producing over 46,000 pieces of art before his death in 2001.

Born in rural Alabama in 1916, Finster went on to become a preacher, tent revivalist, and “master of 22 different trades” before building his roadside tribute to inventors, the Plant Farm Museum. Later dubbed “Paradise Garden” by Esquire magazine, this rock- and junk-encrusted wonderland was the focus of Finster’s life work. In 1976, however, this focus shifted slightly. As he was using his hands to apply paint to a refurbished bicycle, Finster noticed that the paint smudge on his finger had created a perfect human face. A voice spoke to him, saying, “paint sacred art.” In response, Finster churned out thousands of sermon-laden artworks with subjects ranging from historical characters and popular culture icons like Elvis Presley to evangelistic fantasy landscapes and futuristic cities. Most works are meticulously covered in Finster’s own hand-lettered words and biblical verse, recording visionary prophesies and providing glimpses of a celestial outer space world that Finster believed God had revealed to him.

Finster’s preaching experience and showman-like personality helped shape his public persona and ever-increasing celebrity. To spread his vision beyond Paradise Garden, Finster designed record album covers for rock groups such as R.E.M. and Talking Heads. Interviews, films, and his famous appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson further advanced his evangelical message.

The industry of promotion and production that surrounded Finster’s name ended up defining his final years. Though he continued to create many fine works, some critics felt that the quality of his work suffered. However, Finster’s intentions remained true to his inner voice—to make sacred art. Well-known and misunderstood, his position remains polarized, suspended somewhere between awe for his tireless, faith driven creativity and reluctance by the art community to accept his place in the pantheon of contemporary art.

Thanks to a gift from the Thomas E. Scanlin collection in 2004, Lehigh University now possesses one of the largest collections of works by Howard Finster in the world.

Two Finster works, The Way of Jesus and Love and Kindness (Garden Sign), part of the LUAG Teaching Collection, are currently on loan to a major retrospective exhibition Stranger in Paradise: The Works of Reverend Howard Finster organized by the Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  The exhibition will travel to the Chicago Cultural Center (Chicago), The Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University (Alabama), the Museum of Contemporary Art, Jacksonville (Florida), and the Tennessee State Museum, Nashville (Tennessee).

The exhibition is accompanied by a 152-page hardcover, full color catalogue and includes essays by N. J. Girardot (Lehigh University Distinguished Professor of Comparative Religion), Jim Arient, Phyllis Kind, and exhibition curator Glen C. Davies.

SOURCE:  Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


January 15, 2010
June 18, 2010
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Mountaintop campus
Bethlehem, PA 18015 United States
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