Pennville's painter

National | Howard Finster still follows his thumb's command to paint, just not quite so quickly anymore

Issue: "UNbelievable," June 17, 2000

Howard Finster-country preacher, MTV illustrator, prophet of repentance, commercial success, apocalyptic visionary, and toast of the New York art world-was the most widely exhibited living American artist when WORLD ran a cover story on him ("Confounder of the wise," April 27, 1996). Disney, Coke, and the rock group R.E.M., not to mention museums around the world, were clamoring for his paintings filled with angels and Scriptures and admonitions to repent. Mr. Finster, now 83, spent the first half of his life as a part-time preacher and bicycle repairman. In 1976, he says, a smudge of paint on his finger developed a face and spoke to him. "Paint sacred art!" it said, and he's been at it ever since. Only not quite so fast these days. Mr. Finster has suffered from arthritis and diabetes for years. In February of this year he was in the hospital for three weeks with pneumonia. His diabetes recently sent him to the emergency room, says his daughter, Beverly Finster, but he's home now. "It's all he can do to get up and walk around some." After generating 46,000 pieces in his career, his production is down from around 20 pieces per week to about two. He's also hard of hearing, but his cataract surgery last year "put a little clarity into his work." Always somewhat enigmatic in speech, these days "it's hard to get a straight answer out of him," his daughter said. His recent illness forced a break from his traditional Sunday afternoon appearances at Paradise Gardens (the marshy acreage in Pennville, Ga., where he began nailing his works to every building and tree). Miss Finster cleared his travel schedule for April to save his energy for the second annual Finster Fest last month. The last major work he finished was a 4-foot by 8-foot version of The Lord's Supper. "It's got everybody there," said Miss Finster. "It's in Howard style. It's got aircraft and clouds and stars and angels." Some of Mr. Finster's works can be viewed on his website, www.finster.com.

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Les Sillars
Les Sillars

Les directs the journalism program at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., and is the editor of WORLD's Mailbag section.


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