Headline News!!! The Paradise Garden Project to restore and preserve Howard Finster's culmanating achievement was recently awarded a $445,000 grant for Paradise Garden's restoration from ArtPlace America
Those of you who attended the Folk Art Society of America's conference in Richmond, Va., last year were asked by me (more than once) to contribute to a matching fund in order to secure a grant to enable Chattooga County, Ga., to purchase Paradise Garden, Howard Finster's world famous folk art environment close to Summerville, Ga. With the generous contributions of the Folk Art Society and its members along with other donors, and under the guidance of Jason Winters, sole commissioner of Chattooga County, Ga., along with James Thompson and Leamon R. Scott from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), Chattooga County was able to receive this matched grant from the ARC and purchase Paradise Garden.
One of the requirements of this grant was that a site study and management plan be completed for Paradise Garden. Chosen for this monumental task was the well-qualified Atlanta architect firm of Lord, Aeck & Sargent, and Jack Pyburn was chosen to spearhead this effort. The project team was comprised of Lord, Aeck & Sargent (Historic Preservation Planning and Architecture), The Jaeger Company (Historic Landscape Architecture & Planning), National Trust for Historic Preservation (Heritage Tourism Program), the late Tony Rajer, (a folk art conservator), and Tom Patterson (Finster biographer). Special acknowledgement for assistance to the preparation of this plan was given to Tommy Littleton (past owner of Paradise Garden), Susan Crawley (Curator of Folk Art, High Museum of Art) and myself (Finster friend and collector).
The submitted final plan, one-and-a-half inches thick, is an excellent guide for renovation and sustaining the irreplaceable environment that showcased the life and work of Howard Finster, one of the most significant American artists of the 20th century. The next step was finding the money to carry out this massive undertaking and then to organize and coordinate the work.
At a critical moment when the purchase of Paradise Garden was being completed, into the picture stepped one of the most important "angels" to ever visit the garden, Janet Byington, a force to be reckoned with if ever there was one! The phrase "not possible" to her is like waving a red cape in front of an angry bull. Pairing that passion with the skill of diplomacy and the determination to get the job done is a rare talent indeed. She has many of the same traits that Finster possessed. She is not afraid of recycling most everything, working hard and paying great attention to detail.
One of the first jobs after the site purchase was to form the Paradise Garden Foundation Board of Directors and to hire an executive director. The current board members are Susan Connelly, Gena Briley Agnew, Grey Winstead, Whitney Nave Jones, Janet Farrar Byington (Chair), Larry Schlachter, John Turner, Sylvia Lee Keziah, Atteka Abdou and Fran Myers. The executive director is Jordan Poole, who has a master's degree in historic preservation and an impressive resumé that includes having been manager of restoration at George Washington's Mount Vernon in Virginia and manager of field services for the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation in Atlanta.
This group certainly has its work cut out for them. It will not be easy to drag Paradise Garden back out of the swamp that has been determined to reclaim it since that momentous day in 1961 when Finster