Howard Finster, Self-Taught Folk Artist and Baptist Preacher Inspired by God to Spread the Gospel Through Art

Born in Valley Head, Alabama in December of 1916, Howard Finster was a man inspired by God from an early age. At the age of 16 he began to preach after being “born again” at the age of 13 at a Baptist revival.

Finster’s first creative works came in the form of garden parks and museums he built to showcase what he called “the wonderful things o’ God’s Creation, kinda like the Garden of Eden.” Upon moving to Georgia after he ran out of land in Alabama on which to display his inventions, Finster built the Plant Farm Museum, featuring attractions which included the “Bible House,” the “Hubcap Tower,” and the “Folk Art Chapel,” a five story structure which became the largest in the garden.

Finster’s folk art was inspired by visions of a religious nature he experienced from the time he was a boy. One of 14 children, Finster’s first vision was one he saw at age three, following the death of his sister, Abbie Rose. Finster claimed that Abbie appeared on a floating stairway, telling him that throughout his life, his religious experiences and visions would play a vital role. While riding in a wagon at the age of 15, God called him to become a preacher; it was at that point he began preaching at tent revivals across the south, including in Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee.

It was in 1976 Finster decided to dedicate his life to painting and creating folk art, after getting paint on his thumb while rubbing paint as he did what he called a “patch job” on a bicycle. Finster said that when he looked at the white paint on the tip of his thumb, he saw a human face on it and heard a voice telling him to “Paint sacred art.”

Many of Finster’s paintings have bible versus written on them, and are known around the world. In the mid-80’s, Finster’s work became so well-known that he was commissioned to paint album covers for Georgia-based rock bank R.E.M., and the Talking Heads. Of the Talking Heads cover, Finster said that he though the cover included 26 religious verses. He felt good about it, considering a million albums were sold within weeks of its release. Finster said of the album’s success that since a million were sold, that’s 26 million verses he got out into the world.

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