This lecture was part of the Divine Disorder Conference on the Conservation of Outsider Folk art that was organized and hosted by NCPTT. The conference was held February 15-16, 2012 on the campus of Northwestern University in Natchitoches, Louisiana.
Paradise Gardens; its Past and its Future
Church: This is Jordan Poole, the very newly elected director of the Paradise Gardens Foundation. Alright, I’m going to turn it over to Jordan.
Poole: Hi everybody. Alright, so I’m going to ask you, who has actually been to Paradise Gardens, because I know there’s got to be people…I know that…one, two, three, four…thank you all for spending money in my hometown, because you had to buy gas…I’ll bring that up…So I want to actually bring everyone to the discussion of a little bit about Paradise Gardens in Summerville, Georgia, and about Howard Finster. I just want to start off to bring everyone up to speed, and to be introduced a little to Howard. This is exactly what we are trying to bring to our local community and people throughout the country is of the popularity of Howard Finster and what our foundation is trying to do and create in Chattooga county.
Howard Finster was a little man who had a vision. He was a Baptist preacher, a bicycle repairman, (and ironically, actually repaired my mother’s bicycle) [ ? ] to save other things. He became internationally known as the Warhol of the south and as the grandfather of southern folkart. Today there are exhibits of his work traveling the United States. His legacy and his body of work is basically known as Paradise Gardens in Chattooga County. And of course he created probably 47000 paintings, not to mention the works that had been reproduced in prints and so forth, and the wonderful accolades of galleries that had his work.
He used everyday tractor paint from Chamblin’s Hardware where I used to, as a kid, shop myself and used elements and cast off objects throughout our small little town and county. Because of Howard’s unusual [? ] expression, many people have been drawn to become artists themselves. In fact, I was actually at an art exhibit this past Saturday and had two artists say they were inspired to go into professional art just because of their visits to Paradise Garden. So Howard’s art form has really been wonderful for representation in Chattooga County. One of the things that we have worked with is that we want to preserve, not just the legacy of Howard Finster, but to really work to build the artistic community that is there. He hoped that his gardens would inspire creativity and build a whole new breed of artists. One of the things that our foundation is working to do is to carry the legacy and we have joined with Chattooga county, as a government entity to do one as baseline, and this actually happened December 15, was Chattooga County purchased Paradise Gardens, creating an ultimate protection for the gardens to be owned by a government entity and this was actually achieved without using any of the county allotted funds, there is no taxpayer money from Chattooga County itself that went to the purchase.
There was a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission as well as local funds that were raised, actually by, there are some people in this audience who did also give gifts towards this wonderful project. Out of that we have created the Paradise Gardens Foundation as a local entity with me, myself, working on the restoration of the gardens.
So I’ll tell you a bit more about what we have done and what our emphasis is. The main goal of our organization really is to utilize the restoration and have the heritage tourism destination of Paradise Gardens contribute back for sustainable heritage tourism in the county. As such, we want to foster economic development . So I was going to put this on as a background and just say a bit more. This video here was by Blackhawk and was filmed at the garden and it really shows one of the best portrayals I think of Howard in the garden itself. I just wanted to tell everybody that with just this project, beginning in December 15, and we having the ownership in the creation of our foundation, we have already had one art gallery open up in Chattooga County in a vacant building, as well as, a tremendous amount of press that has just come about adding validity. Of our goals, really we want to be able to continue to have this garden used and visited by people who would like to be inspired by this work.
We really just wanted to do that introduction and say that we have, as an element of this, have the architectural firm of Lord Aeck & Sargent, along with the Jaeger Company landscape architecture firm, and also the National Trust for Historic Preservation with Heritage Tourism giving us a site management plan that we hope to use as we work to restore and to utilize this site so it can be a place for heritage tourism and can help build a sustainable economy.
Chattooga county is the most economically depressed county in Appalachian, Georgia. It also has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the state itself. So it has been something that we have all looked to as we do not need another industry to come into the local area. But we want to find a way to bring new life, new blood, and new energy and so we hope that this restoration attempt will be a site case to show how these cultural sites, these cultural landscapes, can be an element for economic stability in the community with heritage tourism.
Well, I’ll turn it over to Jack who will talk more about the actual site itself.
Jordan Poole,Executive Director Paradise Garden Foundation
A Chattanooga County native Jordan Poole is the Executive Director of the Foundation. In this position he oversees the restoration of the Gardens and coordinates all grant writing. Poole’s resume includes a Bachelors degree in Fine Arts in Historic Preservation from the Savannah College of Art and Design and a Masters of Art in Historic Preservation from SCAD. Prior to assuming the role at PGF, Inc, Poole worked for three years as the manager of restoration at George Washington’s Mount Vernon in Virginia and as Manager of Field Services for the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation in Atlanta. He also has completed restoration work at the Unitarian Universalist Church, the historic Highland Park neighborhood, the Mansion on Forsyth and the Isaiah Davenport House Museum.
Poole has also been a lecturer on historic preservation at conferences and colleges and received an award for academic excellence in historic preservation from SCAD.