There is still time to catch the Finster show at the Portland Museum of Modern Art located in the basement of Mississippi Records at 5202 N. Albina Ave. Portland, OR 97217. I would advise you to stop reading now and go directly to see this art, don’t make any excuses or procrastinate. I have not made it over to the show myself but it’s not to be missed. We’re talking about the Reverend Howard Finster, the eccentric, southern preacher who started cranking out primitive folk art late in his life and didn’t stop until his death in 2001.
I’m biased because I like this art so much. It’s colorful, sometimes crude, but always detailed in a energetic way with stick figure angels and smiling clouds. Sometimes there’s a message to the work that’s glaringly obvious because it’s written on the painting whether it’s a biblical verse or another kind of platitude. This is a show made up of work collected by area residents. As a college student in Virginia during the 80’s it would have been difficult for me not to have come in contact with the art of Howard Finster either through album covers which used his art or by having a chance to see an amazing show in nearby Roanoke, VA. I saw more of his art on display in the folk collection of the National Gallery and his pieces were included in other folk art shows that came to the Washington DC area where I lived and there was always a painting or two of his in the shows at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.
Finster’s art will be in town until March 14 so there is still time to see it. The thought of having a collection of Finster’s work on display in Portland amazes me. There’s nothing like those paintings. I was always captivated by that wild southern spirit of Howard Finster. He was all kinds of charming, yet mysterious, which had me wondering where his creativity was coming from and how it had been inspired. I could never forget the video of him as he told the story of how he got paint on his finger and when he looked at it there was a face that told him to paint sacred art. Paradise Gardens, his home compound seemed like a mythical place with folk art cut outs sprouting out of the yard like mushrooms. I was glad to be able to visit in 1998 and tour the grounds and years later happy to hear about the major restoration that has since taken place. Get to the show. You’ve waited too long already.
Here’s a tour of Finster’s Paradise Gardens from 1998:
Here’s info on a film about the restoration of Paradise Gardens. Hopefully it will make it out to Portland:
Here’s some additional memories inspired by Finster. He’s not the type of southerner I would have encountered as a kid living in the Atlanta area in the early to mid 70’s but his portrait of Jimmy Carter I saw while reviewing footage of Paradise Gardens had me flashing back to the good old days. I must have been impressed with Carter because my big brother, Jack, went on a school field trip to the Atlanta state capital and saw then Governor, Jimmy Carter, hard at work at his desk and then soon after he became president. We moved to Washington D.C. two years later and went to Carter’s inaugural parade. In a lawyer’s office, looking down on Pennsylvania Avenue, we saw Jimmy take to the streets with Rosalyn in her teal coat and a then 9 year old Amy Carter skipping around.
Jimmy was too nice a guy to be president for long. I mean the dude isn’t getting much respect from me as I’m using his first name. He used to get on TV and tell us to turn our thermostat down and wear sweaters to conserve energy. Carter was the first president to put solar panels on the White House so I guess he was on to something. Jimmy Carter jumped ahead of the other notable Georgians I remember from my childhood like Lester Maddox, not a hero, but an oddball who ran a strange newspaper advertisement for what I recall was a restaurant. I later adapted the ad for a book report. “Lester Maddox says read Stuart Little.” And there was James Oglethorpe who probably was more of a hero type. I immortalized him in a diorama for a school.
Jimmy Carter Says Yes! Have a listen: