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SUMMERVILLE, Ga. (AP) -- The Rev. Howard Finster, a folk artist who
created sermons in paint that were featured on the covers of rock
albums and in galleries worldwide, died Monday of congestive heart
failure. He was 84.
Finster died at Redmond Regional Medical Center in nearby Rome,
Erwin-Pettit Funeral Home of Summerville said.
Finster, a Baptist minister since his teens, began his art career in his
late 40s, creating works that ranged from wooden cutouts to paintings
to assemblages, many of which he adorned with messages like ``Hell
is a hell of a place'' in block letters.
He often used pop culture icons such as the Coca-Cola bottle,
Cadillacs and Elvis Presley in his work.
``When Christ called his disciples, he called fishermen, he didn't call
nobody from a qualified university,'' Finster said in a 1990 magazine
interview. ``He used common people to reveal parables. That's what I
do. I use Elvis because I'm a fan of Elvis. Elvis was a great guy. By
using him I get people's attention and they read my messages.''
Finster was considered a pioneer among self-taught artists, advancing
the ``outsider'' movement with his unique personality, unflagging
salesmanship and resolute work ethic. Such artists work ``outside'' the
aesthetic of formal art training.
``He was an introduction to this art for a lot of individuals who had never
heard of it,'' said Marcia Weber, a gallery owner in Montgomery, Ala.,
who has handled several Finster paintings. ``He broke ground.''
Finster's work, consistently imbued with evangelistic themes that
exhort the viewer to repent and accept Christ, became popular in the
early 1980s in New York art galleries.
``He took the word of God and did it entirely in his own way, this
eccentric, unconventional manner,'' said Lynne Spriggs, folk art curator
at Atlanta's High Museum of Art, which holds the world's largest
collection of Finster works. ``He was a tireless artist and a great
Finster's widest exposure may have been from music cover art.
In 1988, the Georgia-based rock band R.E.M. asked Finster to make
the cover for its second album, ``Reckoning.'' The Talking Heads, a
musical group of former art students, also commissioned Finster for
the cover of its ``Little Creatures'' recording.
Finster was also known for his three-acre Paradise Garden, which he
described as a ``folk art haven,'' built in 1961 on filled swampland
behind his home in Pennville in northwest Georgia.
Paradise Garden features mosaic cement paths, a giant cement boot,
the Tomb of the Unknown Body and Finster's folk art chapel. For years,
he spent Sunday afternoons at the garden greeting visitors. He later
moved to nearby Summerville, and Paradise Garden is now largely
owned by the High Museum of Art.
Finster was born on a small farm in DeKalb County, Ala., on Dec. 2,
1916, and became a Baptist preacher at age 16.
For more than three decades, he traveled Alabama, Georgia and
Tennessee preaching at tent revivals and supplementing his income
with odd jobs, including plumbing and bicycle repair.
In recent years, most of Finster's work was advertised on his Web site,
with the artist himself working at an almost assembly-line pace.
``We can call it commercialism, but his aim is that his art serves a
didactic function: to spread the word,'' said Lee Kogan, a friend of
Finster's and director of special projects at the Museum of American
Folk Art in New York. ``His art serves God. He's interested in getting
this message out.''
Survivors include his wife, Pauline Freeman Finster; four daughters; a
son; 15 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.