Title of Work
Mrs. Pope (Laura Pope Forester) and Howard Finster
Date of Work
Super 8 film
Art & Design Study Collection: James Smith Pierce Film Collection
Stored: JSP.FAST.FILM BOX 1
UND Art Collections Repository
Born in Brooklyn, New York, James Smith Pierce received his PhD in art history from Harvard University. During his career as a professor, Pierce also became an accomplished artist, whose artworks were included in important exhibitions (including a show on land art at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC) and books on contemporary earthworks and site-specific sculpture. Pierce was also a photographer, exhibition curator, and art collector.
This film features two separate artists.
About Laura Pope Forester (Mrs. Pope):
Laura Pope Forester-nee Atkinson was born on January 31, 1873 in Thomas County, Georgia. Growing up, she learned how to work with clay and natural dyes from her mother.
Pope created her first life-sized sculpture in 1900. Many of her sculpture incorporated found objects and were colored with dyes she created herself from various plants. The majority of her works were sculptures of different iconic women either from history or pop culture such as Scarlet O’Hara, Cleopatra, and Nancy Hart. Berfore her passing in 1953, Pope created around 200 sculptures, several wall-to-wall murals, and vast decorative gardens, most of which were located in and around her estate. Despite never formally exhibiting her work, Mrs. Pope was recognized by various newspapers and institutions such as the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Magazine. In 2021 she was posthumously inducted to the Georgia Women of Achievement hall of fame.
After her death, Pope’s 1,600 acre estate was kept within her family until it was sold in 1974, after which many of her works were destroyed. Upon coming into possession of its current owners Dan and Michelle Dean in 1995, steps were taken to restore and preserve Pope’s remaining works around the estate and a nonprofit was created to help aid in this undertaking. The estate eventually became what is now known as Mrs. Pope’s Museum. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for art, recreation, leisure, and women’s history. The museum is currently not open to the public but tours may be made upon request.
About Reverend Howard Finster:
Howard Finster was born in Alabama in 1916. He was 1 of 13 siblings and was only educated to a sixth-grade level. He was born again at 13 and at 16 he began preaching. Finster realized that his flock had trouble remembering his sermons, so he published religious themed songs in local newspapers and hosted a radio show to make his messages more accessible. He became an official pastor in 1940. He also hosted tent revivals. He had five children, and to make ends meet worked as a bricklayer, carpenter, plumber, and minor repairman. He didn't sign contracts because “God is a free agent”.
In the 1960s, he started work on what would become known as Paradise Garden, his homemade art environment/ sculpture. He created biblical imagery from found objects including glass bottles, toys, and old bits of sculpture. Finster claims that in 1976, he experienced a religious moment while dipping his finger in paint. This led to him saying 'How do I know that I cain't paint.' He proceeded to freehand a painting based off of a 1 dollar bill and from then on he would incorporate paintings into Paradise Garden. Finster also lined the area in these paintings and plywood cutouts of famous American historical figures, mythological figures such as Santa Claus, and characters from the Bible.
In 1983, Finster became famous due to allowing the band REM to film a music video in his garden. He would also go on to paint the album cover for the album Little Creatures by The Talking Heads. Finster died in 2001. His garden began to deteriorate but in 2012, the Paradise Garden Foundation took over and is currently reviving the site.
Digitally preserved 2021.
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