First published: Summer 2001
Howard Finster – the self-taught artist who brought the world to his doorstep by creating a junk-sculpture yard show in his backyard swamp and making thousands of visionary paintings – was in his sixty-fifth year when I first met him. Sixty-five is the traditional age of retirement in the United States, but it was apparent to me from the moment we shook hands that the Reverend Howard Finster was a man of boundless energy, nowhere near ready to retire. Confirming evidence was everywhere as he led me and a couple of poets – Jonathan Williams and Tom Meyer – through his labyrinthine, two-and-a-half-acre ‘Plant Farm Museum’ and ‘Inventions of Mankind’ display, as he originally called his environment in northwest Georgia.
It was late in March 1980, and all three of us were having our first look at the place. It had been a constantly expanding work-in-progress for almost twenty years by that time, and it was the most highly energized landscape I’d ever seen – a dizzying, dazzling maze of sculptural monuments, heavily embellished outbuildings, found-object assemblages, elaborately painted signs, and flowering plants, interconnected by a series of inlaid concrete walkways subdivided by meandering streams of manually channeled swamp water, under the shade of large native pine and hardwood trees.