Magnolias and Strange Fruit

Magnolias and Strange Fruit: Howard Finster (Part Two)


Serpent in the Wilderness

Part two with more images from Howard Finster's Paradise Garden: these photos were also taken in April of 1990 with my beloved 35mm camera (Pentax Super Program).


Those ubiquitous telephone line insulators - my great aunt had a pile of hundreds of these in the woods behind her house - and Finster must have used hundreds throughout the garden:


The Hubcap Tower:


A little closer to the cement wall in the above photo:


The Bottle House:



On the far right of the above photo is an assemblage/sculpture ~ details are below:




No square foot of Paradise Garden was left untouched, including this little corner with wire and cement and encroaching vines, and the following photos with details on and along the garden path:


(and more of those telephone line insulators):




In the words of Howard Finster:






Currently reading/listening to:  H.W. Brand's Benjamin Franklin: The Original American

Magnolias and Strange Fruit: Howard Finster (Part One)

finster-6-sign-on-brown If you were an art student or indie rock fan growing up in the South during the 1980s, it is very likely that you made a pilgrimage to Howard Finster's Paradise Garden in Summerville, Georgia.

Cover of Reckoning - a painting collaboration with Howard Finster & Michael Stipe

Finster started the four-acre garden in 1961, but in 1976 he had a vision that directed him to create sacred art:  the full details of his journey to visionary artist are in the biography on his website.

I had the opportunity to hear him lecture and sing bluegrass gospel, and visited Paradise Garden twice:   I am posting my photographs from April of 1990 in two separate blogs because of the number of photos (part two will be up in a few days).  Minimal commentary - just enjoy.


Welcome to the Garden ~ The Main Trail:




The Bicycle Tower:



The Folk Art Chapel:



Howard loved Coca-Cola:



Finster's workspace (through a peephole in a window):




The garden was unending in its detail; nearly every square foot had some sort of Finsteresque transformation:


The Mirror House:


The garden wall and details:






One man's trash is another man's opportunity for artistic creation and a public service message all-in-one:



A practical man, that Howard Finster.

After he died in 2001, Paradise Garden fell into disrepair and many of the best pieces from the garden went to the permanent collection of the High Museum in Atlanta.  The garden is supposedly being restored at this time and is still open for visitors.

Howard Finster Part Two will post in a couple of days.

Currently reading: Neil Gaiman's Stardust

Currently listening to:  REM Reckoning

Magnolias and Strange Fruit

I am still working on the portrait drawing of my son and waiting for the first of the fixative/matte medium/adhesive/leafing/varnish layers to dry.  In the meantime, I have started a full-size preliminary sketch for my next drawing (48 x 25 inch drawing on a 60 x 40 inch sheet of paper). I usually sketch on large sheets of Canson Vidalon Vellum (a high grade tracing paper that comes in a 36-inch-wide roll) that I overlay and shift around until I am satisfied with the composition.   When the preliminary sketch is finished, I transfer the outlines to my sheet of watercolor paper and start the final drawing.  (Thorough details about the papers I use and why are located in my blog on paper).
This next drawing stems from my grandmother's death last year, my obsession and disenchantment with the "Old South", and the sense of identity that originates from my native soil.  And, as such, it will have plenty of magnolias and a little bit of cotton.
I have been reminiscing on All That Is Southern; this fixation has partly to do with the subject of the newest drawing, but in truth my reminiscing happens every summer.  Perhaps it is the summer heat that reminds me of my childhood in Georgia as well as my ancestral family homesteads in North and South Carolina.  Perhaps it is the fact that I am excited about my upcoming annual visit southward and the recharge that I get from being back in my beloved hometown of Athens, Georgia.
At any rate, as part of the reflecting upon my grandmother's death and all of this reminiscing on All That Is Southern, I have also been thinking more objectively about my grandmother.
Well, I have always been a little objective about her...she was the embodiment of the Old South in ideology and in belief:  truly, if she had not died in March of last year, she would surely have keeled over on the morning of November 5th.  We had many vehement disagreements on politics and social issues through the years that led me to hold a lot of anger towards her, but all in all she was my grandmother and the only grandparent with whom I was close.
This conflict of love and hate has become the springboard for the newest drawing.
Now for a relevant and visually influential southern tangent: two scenes from the 1955 film noir classic Night of the Hunter: a flash of Robert Mitchum's "LOVE" and "HATE" tattooed hands as well as the vision of Shelly Winter's floating hair as she rests in her underwater grave:

Yes indeedy, I will be stealing that floating hair...

Ah, the South.  It is an enigmatic place and although I have been north of the Mason-Dixon line for over a decade, I have not lost my sense of connection to its complex history and the dual, dueling nature of love and hate.
While cleaning up my studio and organizing reference photos, I have shuffled through years of my own photographs documenting the nooks and crannies of the Deep South.  And, it has dawned on me that some of these images are a little amusing, a little strange, and visually rather interesting. So, for the next few months I will have sporadic posts of Magnolias and Strange Fruit:  these will be musings about Southern artists, places and things, random observations, and a few oddities ~ all of those places and things that influence, intertwine, and underpin many of the drawings that I create.
In the meantime, I simply have to muse on one* thing that I miss about the South: the purely magical and delicious fragrance of a blossoming magnolia tree on a cool night breeze.
I always pick the magnolia's flowers even though they quickly bruise and do not last very long.  I have also photographed them until they literally are falling apart:
Now to start drawing them...
*Only my yearning for proper barbecue surpasses my yearning for the magnolia tree
A quick thank you to Traci D for dragging me to the theater to see the restored "Night of the Hunter" all those years ago - the movie still gives me chills...and the references appear in the most magnificent places.