Last night I watched the Horace Kephart documentary produced and directed by Libby Kephart Hargrave. I learned a great deal, it tells the story of a Kep, a brilliant man, a bookish librarian who became poisoned by the hustle bustle of St. Louis. The clamor of the city and longing for the solace of the wilderness caused him to breakdown. He was hospitalized. He deliberately went to the woods to heal, the woods saved him and he in turn made it a personal campaign to save the woods; the woods I’m talking about are the Great Smokey Mountains- He was a controversial character, a guy who I’m sure was; “in one ditch or the other but rarely on the road.” About town he was know as “a man for the park” some revered him for his commitment to conservation, some cussed him, because the formation of “the park” would mean that they would have to move off their ancestral land.
Part of this campaign required extensive mapping and surveying, days of backcountry reconnaissance; and perhaps most importantly creating visual content (photos) to show the public WHY the remarkable beauty of the Smokey Mountains was worth preserving and recognizing on a National Level- the threat of the mountains being totally logged, and developed was very real and very ominous- and was happening allthewhile. Those photographs were made by George Masa, a Japanese immigrant and photographer who was one of Kepharts closest allies. In 1915, George Masa settled in Asheville, North Carolina, where he would spend the final 18 years of his life. In February 1919 he founded Plateau Studio (a business he later sold, which is still in operation today). His customers included some of the town’s most affluent citizens such as the Vanderbilt, Grove, and Seely families.
Masa- “The Nature Photographer” was Kephart’s secret weapon that kept him going. Together, they fought for the Smokies: Masa through his stunning photos and Kephart through his writing. They went on long camping adventures through the mountains, mapping peaks and valleys as they went. –
Masa died in 1933 from influenza. He sincerely desired to be buried next to his friend Kephart (who died in 1931 from a car crash) near Bryson City, North Carolina, but was instead buried in Asheville’s Riverside Cemetery.
One year after Masa’s death in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt used $1.5 million in government funds to establish Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Within the park, a 6,217-foot peak now bears the official name of Mount Kephart. On its broad shoulder is another, somewhat shorter peak, now called Masa Knob.
A picture is worth a thousand words, and I think it’s very special that George Masa and his Japanese Bokeh style and attention to detail is a serendipitous relationship that deserves a solid hat tip from us “Southern Highlanders”, (and us coastal lowlanders 😉