Two things emerged from our family discussions about what to do today: a “scenic drive” in the Georgia countryside and a visit to an eccentric artist’s “Paradise Garden.” I wasn’t listening very carefully when they were talking about visiting this artist’s garden, but I did manage to catch that he was “hard to describe,” and that “you have to see it to understand it.” I like some art, and I wasn’t averse to having a look, so I agreed to go along with this. For the scenic drive, I mapped out a route through the North Georgia mountains, with a place called John’s Mountain as the centerpiece. Everyone seemed glad to have a plan, and we set out to see what Fall in North Georgia looked like.
After about a half-hour’s drive M announced that we had arrived at Paradise Garden. From outside the chain-link fence I couldn’t see much, but what I could see wasn’t all that impressive. I wasn’t expecting much. However, a sign that stated that Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden was listed on the National Register of Historic Places got my attention. I also paid attention when M & A told us about a Swedish couple they had met here the last time they were here. This couple had traveled all the way from Sweden just to see this place. Hmm. OK. Let’s have a look.
His welcome sign was certainly warm and inviting:
The visit to the gardens started with a short video that told us all about the artist. To call him an artist requires a bit of explanation. He was a Baptist Preacher who turned to making art in his 60’s as a way of expressing his vision of the gospel. He had no art training or background. He had a vision one day and felt he had heard a calling from God to do art. For the rest of his life he worked tirelessly, and ended up producing some 40,000 works of “art.” A lot of his “art” was 3-D “sculpture” made from odds and ends (bicycles, hubcaps, bits of mirrors and tiles, basically anything he felt like using). The “Paradise Garden” was his outdoor collection of a lot of these things. It was in a pretty sorry state of disrepair, having seen much better days. (Howard passed away in 2001.) This picture of one of Howard’s “selfies” probably communicates more than my words can:
Here’s a mural he made:
One feature of most of his art was that he wrote scriptures and other messages in just about everything. It was clear that he was using his art to spread his interpretation of the gospel. Pretty cool.
It turns out that this fellow has quite a following! He is known among artists, and he represents that genre of art known as “Outsider Art” or self-taught art. He’s in the same category as Grandma Moses. We didn’t get to see many of his paintings, but apparently his paintings fetch fairly high prices (thousands of dollars).
I like his leopards. Here’s one:
After we left Paradise Garden we headed out into the hills for our “scenic drive.” For a time, it was less than impressive. The fall colors were past their prime, and we are spoiled by the northeastern hardwood forests that predominate in upstate New York. At one point things started to get more interesting as we began to wind our way up and through some more mountainous terrain in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Then I saw it: a sign for a “Scenic Overlook.” I quickly expressed my opinion that we should have a look! M turned out, and we found ourselves on a gravel road. I think we all had expected a simple pull-off and a scenic view, but this was not to be. We wound our way up and around for a while until we got to a parking area. A parking area, but no scenic overlook. The gravel road seemed to go onward. M’s vehicle is not 4-wheel drive, but I urged him onward. His wife was not pleased as we found our way on a mountainous, gravel, switchbacky, one-lane road. At a couple of points we encountered opposing traffic, and M didn’t even stop. He pushed onward. I think everyone in the car was pretty nervous as we wound back and forth up the mountain. There was a bit of discussion about how we were going to turn around if we needed to. (We wouldn’t have been able to.) Oh, and we also were low on fuel.
Well, eventually we did get to a scenic overlook, and it was worth all the trouble. It turns out this was John’s Mountain. It was lovely.
After that it was all downhill until we got to our dinner destination: Crawdaddy’s in Rome, GA, where we enjoyed some authentic Cajun fare.