adventures in Summerville

group photo

M and H came over about noon on Saturday and we piled in the car, taking N’s gas-powered wagon because, between the 4 of us, it’s got the most room in the boot. That was Bella’s spot while little Manuel curled up at H’s feet with his new antler. We were headed to Finster Fest in Summerville, and our first trip to Paradise Garden. M, H and I, being who we are and where we come from, were excited, N, I think was a little skeptical, i told him he’d just have to wait and see.

Summerville is somewhere up toward Chattanooga, not just off 75 but not too far, and very close to Alabama. Howard Finster, Georgia’s most famous folk artist (perhaps, Georgia is full of folk art), in fact is a native of Alabama, and Valley Springs, where he is now buried, is not far from the community that he called home for the duration of his artistic career.

Howard Finster called himself a “man of visions” and he was creating visions for others long before he got his second call from God, the one that told him to “paint sacred art” (5,000 pieces to be exact). According to wikipedia, he started building his first garden park in the late 1940s in Trion, just up the road from the Pennville community where he moved in 1961 and started building the “Plant Farm Museum.” He retired from preaching (his first “call” to my knowledge) in 1965 and worked on the Plant Farm Museum and repairing bicycles full time. In short, he was hoot and holler long before he had the vision on the end of his finger in 1976 telling him to turn to sacred art.

This is what we came to, after a much-needed bbq lunch and art browsing at the Festival in town, we drove out to Pennville, scanning the right side of the road hard for the small sign that would point us down the right way. The street signs (for Rena or Howard St) are much easier to see but luckily J tells us that new signage is an important step in their plans. Much to their excitement, we took the dogs in too, taking care that Bella’s tail didn’t knock anything over. It was my first visit but I have heard that much as been uncovered in the last year or two at the garden. Much has also obviously been curated, but in such a way that the feel of the place in use is not totally lost. after all, all that junk collects dust if not cared for and that certainly does not inspire recollections of how it once was. J told us on a recent visit to Rhodes Hall of all the work the board and volunteers have been doing, dredging the low-lying parts, discovering, concrete mosaic walkways (they’ve done a lovely job of filling in the gaps to make it navigable once again), uncovering drainage ditches and canals, a system rigged up by Finster to keep his swampy garden dry, and of course, stabilizing the many buildings on the property like the World’s Folk Art Church, the Mirror House, and the elevated chapel walk that houses the majority of fan art and memorials.


I took the million pieces you
threw away and put them
togather[sic] by night and day
Washed by rain, dried by sun
A million pieces all in one.


We sat on the porch at Paradise Garden about as late as we could before heading back down the highway to town and the beginnings of the Man of Vision Concert for the evening. As usual, we all forgot something to sit on and so settled for the only grassy piece of shade we could find on the edge of a parking lot a decent distance from the band. Bella and Manny, leashed together to prevent them from running off too fast, provided entertainment for us and our neighbors. Cool beers, corn dogs, friends and dogs on the grass, and some pretty decent Georgia tunes on a stage nearby, it’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed these simple pleasures and it was so delightful.

On the way back to Atlanta (before the last bands unfortunately, there’s not many overnight options that close to Alabama) half of us slept and all of us were happy (:


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