Conservation of Howard Finster’s eccentric Bible House

Anton Rajer

Abstract

The goals among participants within a conservation project may vary tremendously. Finding common ground and areas of mutual collaboration is always a challenge. Such was the case with Howard Finster’s artistic Bible House. Built by the artist in his Paradise Garden in Summerville, Georgia around 1975, the object began to deteriorate immediately as the site was swampy. The artist used materials at hand, not known for their stability in a humid environment, such as plaster drywall, soft pine wood, cardboard, mirrored glass, plastic, metal chain, electrical wiring, house paint and cement in a mixed media assemblage.

Recognized for it artistic merit the Bible House was rescued and transported to Atlanta, Georgia in 1995. During removal many rotted timbers and loose elements were exposed and collapsed necessitating repair or replacement. The client choose to employ a conservator and craftsman to preserve the decorated house as the object is in reality a supper artifact with many complex parts. Discussions ensued about what should be done. Our common ground evolved out of mutual respect and understanding of the skills each of us could bring to the project, from replacing rotted members to consolidating house paint. The success of the project was due to regular on-side meetings, particularly between the carpenter and conservator. We collaborated in many aspects of the project such as window glass replacement and base supports. In addition we sought curatorial advice to help us through difficult decisions that respected the artist’s intent but provided structural integrity to the Bible House. Compromise decisions were made after options were reviewed with all parties. Lastly by providing a stable, clean indoor environment for the object its longevity has been assured.

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