Photos by Jason Huynh
What does a medical clinic, an innovation incubator and folk art have in common?
Answer: a public art gallery, hosted at Fifth Avenue in Rome, Georgia. The gallery, which officially opened on February 1, 2019, is created and sponsored by Harbin Clinic, hosted in Makervillage, and features the works of Howard Finster and about 10 other artists whose works are inspired by Finster; including creations from the second rendition of the City of Summerville’s downtown coke bottle project.
Howard Finster is a name that holds much connotation for not just the Northwest Georgia community, but the world. Finster is perhaps best known as a folk artist, a visionary, and as the creator of Paradise Garden in Summerville, Georgia; a plot of over two acres, housing much of his 46,991 individual pieces of work. Those who witness his creations are often left awed, inspired and most definitely changed.
But it’s not just the complex yet simple nature of his designs that seem to speak to the masses, but the messages within each piece. Howard Finster was first and foremost a preacher, a servant of God, who claimed he was divinely inspired to create his first artwork when God appeared to him in a splotch of paint on his thumb. Driven to create “sacred works,” he was passionate about spreading God’s messages through his art.
At the gallery opening, Tricia Steele, creator of Makervillage, talked of her personal experience with Finster, when she was just 16-years-old.
“In the summer of 1999, I found myself [at Paradise Garden] and on the porch with an old man in overalls….and I was amazed about how he saw beauty in all things….And he said something, that burrowed really deep down in me. I don’t remember anything else, but I remember this one thing. He said: ‘You know, I learned a long time ago that every day, you just get up and you do what needs doing, and you make what’s on your heart to make, and you say what’s been burned into your lips to say. And you let God take care of whatever happens to whatever you’ve done and made and said.’”
These words so profoundly impacted Steele that she heralds this mantra as one of the reasons she created Makervillage, a community that aims to “nurture startups and innovators” with access to resources in Northwest Georgia and beyond.
“I realized that this man’s words had so burrowed into me like a seed or germ of yeast, growing and affecting every way that I saw the world. That notion is really what gave me the confidence to start new businesses, to venture out,” said Steele.
Another person profoundly impacted by the artist is Russell Cook, Professor of Art at Georgia Highlands College.
“I met Howard Finster when I was about 12….He sat on the porch and played the banjo. He loved to talk to everybody. I think that’s why he made Paradise Garden in part…if it were not for the audience, it wouldn’t be doing what he wanted it to do, which was to reach people.”
Cook also said that Finster’s message of creative freedom inspired his own art. “I didn’t realize that what he did was unusual, until I got to art school in college. He set a template for me personally, in terms of the directions you can go and the extent in which you can take it and run with it [because] his style does not follow the Western tradition of art.”
But even for those who did not get to personally know Finster, who passed away in 2001, there is still the opportunity to moved by his many pieces of artwork. And this is exactly why Harbin Clinic has created this art gallery.
“Our vision at the Harbin Clinic is about caring completely,” explained Dr. Ken Davis. “And we don’t mean just caring just in the doctor’s office or in the emergency room or in the surgical suite; we mean completely caring in every aspect of our patients lives and our communities’ lives.”
Dr. Davis said this relates directly to the reason for the clinic’s desire and push to create the art gallery: “There’s a wonderful study out of Harvard Medical School that says that for [people with] mental illness, emotional illness, and even physical illness…when that patient has the opportunity to be involved in the arts, their prognosis is better. So we feel that this is a wonderful tie in with our vision statement.”
Susan Gilbert Harvey, the oldest grandchild of William Pickens Harbin, one of the founders of what was first the Harbin Hospital in 1906, said: “I have been very pleased in the past couple of years that Harbin Clinic has supported the Rome Symphony, the Rome Little Theatre and now the visual arts with this gallery. I think it adds to the community’s artistic and intellectual development, and that it’s a big asset. And I’m glad that it’s downtown Rome, and I love this Fifth Avenue development. It’s great!”
Gilbert Harvey is an artist in her own right, as a visual artist, performer and published author; so she spoke from experience when she said, “I firmly the arts are important for a healthy life. They can contribute to mental stability and day-to-day life. So this gallery makes me very happy and very proud for the city and the Harbin community. “
The Harbin Clinic Gallery exhibit will be up throughout February and March and the public can visit on Fridays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
For more information, visit: Makervillage.org