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Paradise Garden is the visual art creation of the late Rev. Howard Finster. Howard, one of the most well known and collected folk artists of the 20th Century, created a site that has enchanted and inspired many. Artists have come the site located in Chattooga County and left with new insights into creativity through Howard Finster’s use of recycled objects to create art through assemblage.

Chattooga County and the Paradise Garden Foundation have been working to restore the historic site to further enhance the impact of art and economy to the financially challenged county. Setting off a campaign to stabilize and restore the structures and sculptures of Paradise Garden, the Paradise Garden Foundation working with Chattooga County has had good successes with encouraging visitation and also to encourage visitors to support the great many local artists who reside in the region.

Since the site had its grand reopening on May 5th, thousands of people have flocked to spend time immersed in Howard Finster’s vision to inspire others, promote creativity and artists. It is not uncommon for visitors to travel from as far away San Paulo, Brazil or Anchorage, Alaska and make a point to seek out the creative genius left behind in Chattooga County at Paradise Garden.

ArtPlace spoke with at the Paradise Garden Foundation, Executive Director, Jordan Poole about the Paradise Garden project.

ARTPLACE: What do you have to do really (really) well to achieve success with your initiative?

POOLE: Well, The Paradise Garden Foundation is working extremely hard to ensure that an authenticity continues to exist at the site. We want to show the world that the folk art of Paradise Garden is very much as Howard envisioned and created it but also to show people that the community surrounding the garden is steeped in traditional craft, visual art and performing arts that remain to Chattooga County and the surrounding region. To us, the foundation, we know that what is empowering about art and most particularly Howard’s art is the authenticity of it. We know our projects success will come from holding on and preserving what is unique to our community.

ARTPLACE: How do you expect the community to change as a result Paradise Garden Project?

POOLE: We know that the changes to our community are directly tied to the enthusiasm of locals. There is a sense of pride that is developing in the community. For the first time is a long time, people proud to say they are from Chattooga County. People are becoming aware of the strong artistic heritage that exists in our valleys and region that developed through a strong sense of tradition. These strong traditions of crafts and technigques handed down from generation to generation here live on through pottery, music, and textile designs.

One artist, Doug Hawkins, shows his work at Vision Gallery in Summerville. Vision Gallery opened in response to the Paradise Garden Project this past March. At Vision Gallery, Doug displays jewelry that he makes that incorporates Summerville Agate, a stone once gathered by the native Cherrokee Indians of this area. This jewely is so unique it can only be found in our county, and Doug’s willingness to polish and use this stone just shows the pride and tradition that we hold so dear. Summerville Agate and Paradise Garden are two local gems that show community change through our embrace of what we locals have already had. They just need to be polished.

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