He was a curious sight in the Smokies and the Blue Ridge of the late 1850s, trudging along a rugged trail with his canvases, paints and sketching tools. The artist from Belgium, aligned with the Hudson River School of New York landscape artists, found fresh inspiration for his huge paintings. Born in 1829, William C. Frerichs had come to America in 1852 and settled in New York City, before marrying in 1854 and moving to Greensboro College (NC) to teach art.At every opportunity, Frerichs left Greensboro to explore the mountains of western North Carolina. His dramatic, romanticized paintings depicted thundering rivers and towering, craggy mountains that dwarfed any people pictured in the landscapes. At least two Frerichs paintings of “Tamahaka Falls” survive, one of which is displayed at the NC Museum of Art. Identified as being in “Cherokee County”, the actual location remains a mystery. Another large Frerichs painting can be seen at the Greenville County Art Museum (SC). His time in North Carolina was difficult. An 1863 fire destroyed most of his work. Because of his knowledge of the mountains, the Confederate Corps of Engineers drafted Frerichs to supervise mining operations. (His engineering skills were exemplified by his 1873 patent for an “improvement in snow-rams for railroads.”) Reportedly, Frerichs was captured by the Union Army at least once. By 1865, he and his family returned to New York.At the age of 18, Frerichs completed a 12 by 17 foot painting that was purchased for the emperor of Russia, and in his early years, he studied throughout Europe. But after coming to America, Frerichs tended to be an outsider, and never an active member of the landscape painters in New York. He died in 1905 at the age of 76. What were the paintings that burned? Where is Tamahaka? Where exactly did he travel in the mountains? Has anyone written of what must have been a memorable encounter with Frerichs on his journeys?
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