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Poets, Artists & Madmen

Best art space worth the drive: Howard Finster's Paradise Gardens

Staff Pick

What art-related business could you possibly have in rural northwest Georgia, you ask? We'll tell ya: Howard Finster's Paradise Gardens. Located about an hour and a half northwest of Atlanta, Paradise Gardens is the stuff-filled 2.5-acre legacy of late folk artist, banjo picker, and bicycle handyman Howard Finster. Finster bought the swampy lot in 1961, drained it himself, and, by decree of The Lord, filled the grounds over the next 40 years with thousands of works in his manic and pious style, including a maze-like mosaic garden, and the property's crowning glory, the World's Folk Art Chapel. After Finster's death in 2001, ownership changed hands multiple times and the property fell into disrepair as valuable artworks were lost, sold, or destroyed by the elements. But last December, Chattooga County bought the property for $125,000, founded the Paradise Garden Foundation, and initiated a revitalization effort. In April, Paradise Gardens was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Two months later it was awarded a $445,000 grant from ArtPlace. The outdoor museum reopened in May after an intense cleanup and beautification effort that has transformed the property, an effort that foundation executive director Jordan Poole hopes will also translate into a boost for the local economy.

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