Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Northwest Georgia restrooms hold secret to life

The secret to life can be found in the ladies’ rooms of two northwestern Georgia attractions.

First, Paradise Garden in Summerville, the home of the Rev. Howard Finster who, when repairing a bicycle in 1976, received a sacred image on the tip of his finger that told him to “paint sacred art.” He answered that he wasn’t an artist and the vision replied, “How do you know?” Finster took this message to heart and began painting everything he could find, beginning with George Washington on a dollar bill, said Janet Byington, director of the Howard Finster Foundation that operates his home and gardens.

Finster created more than 46,991 pieces of art before his death at age 84 in 2001, from popular culture icons such as Elvis Presley and Coca-Cola to angels and biblical verses. His art is in every major museum in the Unites States and some throughout the world. He has graced album covers for rock bands R.E.M. and Talking Heads, appeared on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson and has been called “the grandfather of Southern Folk Art” and “the Andy Warhol of the South.”

Visiting his home and gardens is a spiritual experience. Saying Finster painted on everything feels like an understatement. He transformed items people would have otherwise thrown away, built small houses out of mirrors and stone accented by mosaics, created a tower out of used bicycles and one from hubcaps, and so much more. Even the sidewalks and fences contain art. In addition, much of his more developed artwork is on display in the visitor’s center.

“From this poor plot of land he created an empire,” Byington said. “It’s absolutely amazing what this man created from nothing, painted on everything, what people donated. He didn’t throw anything away.”

Paradise Garden attracts thousands worldwide to Finster’s small hometown and May 27-28 celebrates his life with Finster Fest.

So, what does this have to do with a woman’s room? Inside the center’s restroom is one of Finster’s quotes:

“My work is scrubby. It’s bad, nasty art. But it’s telling something. You don’t have to be a perfect artist to work in art.”

I’ve never been religious in the classical sense of the word but his happy angels, whimsical creations and lifting Bible verses (not the depressing, scary kind) lifted my soul on a chilly, rainy day. For instance, a wall of fluffy clouds offered this quote: “When troubles come from every side, and you don’t know what to do. Turn your self off and trust in God. He will take you through.”

Or maybe this quote above a cow cutout for these political times: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rules of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

Bob Watts
There’s also an Air B&B across the street, so you can eat and sleep Howard Finster as well. The house has been decorated by designer Summer Loftin, includes two cats named Calvin and Hobbes and allows unlimited access to Paradise Garden.

Bob Watts and his incredible pizza.
Not far away is Bob’s Brick Oven, serving up some of the finest pizza and homemade ice cream you’ll ever taste in Rock Spring.

Bob Watts changed careers later in life as well, leaving behind the finance world to “follow his dream.” Ask him about life and he’ll tell you he loves what he does, loves coming to work and creating pizza perfection with fresh ingredients and house-smoked meats toasted in his on-site brick oven. He even makes his own root beer!

What’s in Bob’s ladies room?

“Live in the moment and make life beautiful.”

Amen brothers.

Cheré Dastugue Coen is a travel and food writer from South Louisiana who appreciates the weird and wacky side of life. Her finest selfie was taken at Paradise Garden, in Howard Finster's "Mirror House." Write to her at

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