Winding back roads that have run quietly through woodlands or along cotton fields can be suddenly marked by giant crosses or hand-lettered signs. These intensely personal creations, built by eccentric and often outcast individuals, usually spout scripture, warning about Judgment Day. The best known of these “Gardens of Revelation,” as scholar John Beardsley has called them in his excellent book of the same name, is Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden (200 N. Lewis St., 678/641-8700, Tues.-Sat. 11am-5pm, Sun. 1pm-5pm, donations), about an hour south from Chattanooga, down US-27. Famous for his primitivist paintings, which appeared on album covers by R.E.M. and Talking Heads, Finster created a series of Gaudí-esque shrines, embedding seashells, bits of tile, and old car parts into concrete forms. Paintings of Henry Ford, Hubert Humphrey, and Hank Williams are arrayed alongside dozens of signs quoting scripture. The spirit of the place is summed up in Finster’s own verse:
“I built this park of broken pieces
to try to mend a broken world of people
who are traveling their last road.”
At Margaret’s Grocery (4535 N. Washington St.), along Business US-61 on the north side of Vicksburg, Mississippi, vivid sculptures and huge hand-lettered signs preach words of wisdom. Owner Margaret died in 2010, followed by her preacher husband in 2012, so their creation may well fade away. More northerly states have their shrines as well, including the Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas, and the Dickeyville Grotto in Iowa.
Paradise Garden (200 N. Lewis St.)
Margaret’s Grocery (4535 N. Washington St.)