It’s taking three construction crews, including one from Rome, to help restore the former Summerville home and studio of world-reknowned folk artist Howard Finster.
Just a short drive from Rome, Paradise Garden has long been a place of beauty and mystery. As the home and studio of the prolific and eccentric folk artist, the property had fallen into disrepair since his death.
But thanks to significant grants totaling $700,000 from Art Place America and The Educational Foundation of America, executive director Jordan Poole is overseeing a variety of restoration projects to the property.
“It’s an ongoing renovation but this past month we really went full on,” Poole said. “Some of the most significant work right now is being done to the Rolling Chair ramp — the raised gallery, the clearing of the mosaic and the foundation of the new museum.”
Poole said one crew is strengthening and stabilizing the Rolling Chair Gallery, a gallery building on stilts. The timber frame system and pylons and being strengthened.
Another crew is clearing away moss and vegetation from a beautiful glass mosaic walking path laid into the concrete on the property.
Finally, Poole has plans to turn Finster’s studio into a museum space. So crews are clearing away and renovating a shed in which Finster cast concrete which will become part of the museum facility.
“We’ve always had a drainage problem here,” Poole said. “That’s a big part of what the construction crews have done. They were able to dredge the canal and open up what had been clogged with debris for a number of years. Because of all this, the water table has gone down six or seven inches. That helps tremendously with our preservation efforts.”
The goal at this point is to stabilize the structures and improve the visitor experience at the property. Poole said more money will be needed to restore the Paradise Garden fully but this is a good start.
And in the process of clearing away and cleaning, Poole and volunteers have found some remarkable and downright odd items on the property.
“We are still discovering wonderful things about Howard’s work and about his life,” Poole said. “We even found a rattle snake in a jar and a human tumor in a jar. And we found hundreds of paint cans Howard used to create thousands of paintings over the years. So we have a cataloguing system to catalogue all Howard’s things that we’re finding so they can be displayed in the museum one day. These things help tell the story of how Howard Finster captivated the world.”
As the property gets closer and closer to what it was when Finster was alive, Poole is looking toward one of Paradise Garden’s biggest events — Finster Fest which will take place June 8 and 9. The Festival will take place in Summerville and will feature local and regional musicians including Norman and Nancy Blake. Norman is an instrumentalist, vocalist and songwriter who is considered one of the leading figures in the Bluegrass revival of the 1970s. He has played backup for Johnny Cash, June Carter, Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson and Joan Baez among others. Norman also played on the 2007 album “Raising Sandy” by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss which won five Grammy Awards.
Restoration and preservation work will continue at Paradise Garden which has proved to be a hidden gem for Rome art lovers or simply those interested in seeing the home and artwork of a man who put Summerville on the map.
“He created almost everything from this little garden in Summerville,” Poole said of Finster. “This is his masterpiece. It’s where he began, where he broke away and pretty much started an art movement. This place is a piece of art history. People can visit the property and see buildings and Howard’s outdoor sculptures such as the Bicycle Tower and Hubcap Tower. They can also wander through and see the ongoing work to the mosaic section of the garden and some of the newly discovered pieces.”