Artist Dates


Title of Work

Howard Finster Paradise Garden 1


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Date of Work

ca. 1976


Super 8 film

Identification #



Art & Design Study Collection: James Smith Pierce Film Collection




UND Art Collections Repository

Artist Bio

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.

Additional Information

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.


Very good.

Condition Notes

Digitally preserved 2021.


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