Mapping the Mountains: The Photographs of George Masa Opens at Asheville Art Museum

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Mapping the Mountains: The Photographs of George Masa Opens at Asheville Art Museum
George Masa, Untitled Mountain Landscape, ca. 1920, black and white gelatin silver print, 5 x 7 inches. Museum Purchase with funds provided by the Nat C. Myers Photography Fund. Asheville Art Museum Collection.

ASHEVILLE, NC.- The Asheville Art Museum presents today Mapping the Mountains: The Photographs of George Masa, on view through July 5, 2009. George Masa (1881 – 1933) was born Masahara Iizuka in Japan. At the age of 24, Iizuka came to the United States. In 1915, he came to Asheville where he first took a position with the Grove Park Inn and later worked at Biltmore Industries as a woodcarver. Iizuka had found a new life and a new name: George Masa. He started his photographic business by developing film for hotel guests, but quickly began taking his own photographs specializing in landscapes. His work grew and over time he operated under several business names and locations. Many of Masa’s photographs appeared in newspapers, magazines, postcards and promotional brochures and did much to popularize the region.

Masa came to love the mountains of Western North Carolina and worked tirelessly for their preservation at his own expense. Using his photographic equipment and an odometer he crafted from an old bicycle, Masa meticulously cataloged a significant number of peaks, the distances between them and the names given to them by the local settlers and the Cherokee. He was a friend of Horace Kephart and the two of them worked together to ensure that a large portion of the Great Smoky Mountains would be established as a national park. Masa also scouted and marked the entire North Carolina portion of the Appalachian Trail. Although an extraordinary photographer, Masa was not financially adept and died penniless. In 1934, one year after Masa’s death, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was officially established. In 1961, Masa Knob, a peak of 5,685 feet in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, was named in his honor.

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Asheville Art Museum will present an exhibition examining the photography of Masa including his seminal images of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This exhibition will demonstrate why Masa has been called “the Ansel Adams of the Appalachian Mountains.”

This exhibition was organized and curated by the Asheville Art Museum. This exhibition is sponsored by the Maurer Family Foundation, Judy Appleton Memorial Fund, Battery Park Book Exchange and Ray Griffin and Thom Robinson.

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