Howard Finster: Man of Visions

St. John Design Robe, enamel on wood, 81x25", n.d., #453.

The Calling

In 1976, Howard Finster was sixty years of age and had lived a full, hard, life. He had worked as a plumber, a grocer, a carpenter, a bicycle repairman, and as a traveling preacher in Georgia and Alabama. He had no inkling of his impending calling to create art, so late in his life. As he was repairing an old bicycle one day, touching up some of its scratches by applying small amount of white tractor paint here and there there with his finger, he had a vision.

He suddenly felt a divine sense of calm, and a human face appeared in the paint dripping from his finger. A voice said to him, "Paint sacred art"(Turner, p. 72).

"Lord, I can't paint. I don't have no education in that," he replied (Ibid.). But Finster obeyed the voice and promptly took a dollar from his billfold and tacked it to a piece of plywood nearby. Using this as a model, he created his first "sacred painting:" George Washington, one of his childhood heroes.

This would be the first of thousands of sacred paintings that Howard Finster has created in the twenty years since. The story of this first painting contains within it hints of the essential problems which must be addressed in exploring Finster's work --- namely, the meaning of the term "sacred" as he understands it in the context of his work, and the role of commerce in the creation of Finster's brand of visionary art.

Howard Finster (in dark suit fourth from left) baptizing people at Mentone, Alabama, early 1940's.

Continue: Angels and Elvis: Mixed Iconography and the Meaning of "Sacred." Back to the beginning of Howard Finster: Man of Visions