Thursday, January 21, 2010

George Masa

He died in 1933, but questions persist concerning the life and work of George Masa.

An early proponent of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and a close friend of Horace Kephart, Masa worked as a photographer in Asheville for many years.

After his death, Elliot Lyman Fisher purchased his photographs and hundreds of them disappeared after that.

Some of Masa’s photos ended up on postcards published during the 1930s and 40s, although most of those cards failed to acknowledge Masa.

"The Tuckaseigee River, between Sylva and Bryson City, N.C."....OR NOT!

Several years ago I acquired the postcard above, not knowing of any connection with Masa. My immediate question - “where EXACTLY between Sylva and Bryson City was this photo taken?”

After studying the river and referring to several maps, I came to the conclusion that the scene was NOT between Sylva and Bryson City. Last year, I saw Masa’s original photo captioned as a view of the “Tennessee River” in the GSMNP.

At that point, I started to consult my historic topographic maps – ones that show the area prior to the creation of Fontana Lake. Those maps feature several islands downstream from Bushnell, where the Tuckasegee joined the Little Tennessee, and that could be a clue to pinpointing the location.

Here’s how Asheville’s Pack Library annotated the Masa photograph:

Photograph of river with island in center looking towards mountains. Back of photo has one title that is crossed out: "G.S.M.N.P. Looking Down Tenn. River" (Assumed to be Tennessee River.) Under that is written: "or The Tuchasegee River?" Bryson City, NC is written under that. Photo is from the APC collection and has been retouched. Not dated. Bottom left has numbers 0-2748 c (copyright symbol), and is assumed to be George Masa's numbering.

Despite the caption on the postcard, my best guess is that the scene is NOT between Sylva and Bryson City and NOT on the Tuckasegee. Instead, it probably is a portion of the Little Tennessee (now Fontana Reservoir), west of Bryson City.

Precisely where, I can't say.


Pack Library has a substantial collection of Masa photos online
The notes to those images explain how many of them reappeared on postcards.

An extensive collection of vintage WNC postcards, the LeCompte collection, is posted by the library at UNC-Asheville which can be compared with the original Masa images.

One online exhibit is devoted to Masa’s connection with the Asheville Post Card Company and includes side-by-side images of Masa photos that were remade as postcards.

Paul Bonesteel filmed a wonderful documentary, The Mystery of George Masa, and on his website he explained the keys to identifying George Masa photos.

1 comment:

Don Talley said...

George Masa is a fascinating character.

The article above mentions the Paul Bonesteel documentary about George Masa.

That documentary, The Mystery of George Masa, will be shown in Black Mountain NC on Thurs Feb 18th a 7pm.

Full details at