Thursday, October 20, 2011




By Doc Lawrence

SUMMERVILLE, GA- The Rev. Howard Finster, a folk artist who gained global fame with his divinely inspired works, departed this earth 10 years ago on October 22. Attention spans are short these days and Georgia, like the entire art world, suffers irreparably should the legacy of this messenger of things noble and worthy find a place in the scrap heap of history and heritage.

Thanks greatly to the unselfish efforts of Chicago’s David Leonardis, Finster’s magnificently powerful art survives. Much like Atlanta’s High Museum of Art which has an impressive collection of Finster originals, Leonardis, who was with his close friend Finster just hours prior to his death, displays these works and has events incorporating all facets of this ostensibly simple man who was in truth as complicated and mysterious as any scientist or philosopher I’ve met.

Leonardis created the Howard Finster Vision House in Summerville where Howard once lived. Despite a poor economy, his plans to have a living art center including a bed and breakfast are progressing impressively. Like his artist hero, Mr. Leonardis doesn’t buy into despair or quitting.

While Finster spent the better part of his life as a country preacher, when he was 59, he received a vision which he interpreted as a message from God instructing him to begin painting sacred art. Thousands of paintings later, Finster’s artwork is in the Smithsonian, the American Folk Art Museum in NYC, the Library of Congress and major museums and collections around the world. Howard Finster painted album covers like R.E.M.'s Reckoning and Talking Heads' Little Creatures, which Rolling Stone named “Album Cover of the Year.”

More than any person I have known, Rev. Howard Finster remained true to his core beliefs. There was never the slightest doubt when I was with him that God was there. Heaven was in his eyes and his voice. There was  comfort and a peace. My own demons were silenced.

I miss this great man. He transformed my life and his art remains more than a precious memory. It is alive with universal truths.

David Leonardis the country’s largest collector and dealer of Finster’s art, is founder and curator of the Howard Finster Vision House in Summerville, just south of Chattanooga and about a two-hour drive from Atlanta. The house is where Finster saw a vision of God prompting him to create sacred art.

NOTE: I will be in Lynchburg, Tennessee this weekend as a judge in the fabulous Jack Daniel’s International Barbecue Competition. It is one of North America’s greatest festivals and I hope to see you there. 
Memories of last year:

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