Born in December 1916 and ascended to Heaven in October 2001, Howard Finster was one of the most unique American artists of the 20th century. A central figure in the movement called “outsider art”, representing self-taught artists with few or no connections to the bigger artistic world. A fiery backwoods Baptist preacher and visionary, deeply spiritual in his life and his artistic conception, Finster first burst into the national public eye through his unlikely connections to the world of college rock.
He was born in Valley Head, Alabama, one of fourteen kids, and claimed to have had his first vision at age three, when he saw his late sister emerge from the sky in a white gown and tell him he would be a visionary. His education ended in the sixth grade, when he went to work to help support the family. In 1930 Finster received the Holy Spirit at a Baptist revival, and three years later he became a passionate preacher of the Gospel. He pastured at churches in Rock Bridge and Fort Payne, Alabama, and took up art in the 1940s as an avocation. When he wasn’t pastoring, he worked as a bicycle repairman.
In 1961 Finster moved to Pennville and the Howard Finster Vision House Museum. While his Christian faith was always evident in much of Finster’s art, it was not until 1976 that his art evolved into a deeper method of ministry. Guided by a vision of a face on his fingertip, he began creating his unique form of sacred art almost exclusively. Finster painted primitive images of angels, people and buildings, captioning them with Biblical quotes or sermon snippets. Besides flat, rectangular works, he would often paint three-dimensional sculptures assembled from cut wood. As before, he completely covered the surface of his pieces with paint and text.