French Broad – Artist and conservationist Scott “Doc” Varn aims to preserve national and historic places, including our own French Broad river, through the power of art.
Varn is the founder of Preserving a Picturesque America (PAPA), an organization that reimagines illustrations detailing the country’s natural beauty from the 19th century Picturesque America books. The Picturesque America publication spanned from 1872 to 1874, but its legacy remains.
“They call it Picturesque America and it was originally released as a serial. You could subscribe to it every month or so and would get this blue, little sleeve that had one of these cereals in it, or chapters. Visually you could get it bound into books, you know, people would make it into four volumes or sometimes two very heavy, large volumes,” Varn says.
These book volumes had intricate wood-carved depictions of national treasures including Yosemite and Western North Carolina.
Founder Scott Varn has been gathering artists from eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina for several years and has been guiding them to the vantage points of the original Picturesque America artist Harry Fenn. enn’s hand-engraved wood pieces depicting Western North Carolina are inlaid in the pages. From 1870 to around 1875, Fenn was the most prominent landscape illustrator in the United States. His Orientalism pieces are on display across the world.
For years, Varn sought out the thirteen sites along the French Broad depicted in the publication. Some were easy to locate, like the identifiable Old Mill at Lake Louise in Weaverville. Others were more difficult; identifiable landmarks have been bulldozed. Since pinning the locations of all of Fenn’s illustrations in the region, Varn is recreating his journey with other artists. Artists will again illustrate these natural wonders.
“By seeking out the places captured in the Picturesque America series over one hundred and forty years ago we are gaining perspective on how we have been treating our national treasures. By re-creating each serial we will share those realizations and help continue the original mission,” Varn says.
Dressed in 19th-century garb, Varn is accompanied by fellow writer and artist Mike Wurman on the “Footsteps & Brushstrokes” tour along the French Broad from May 4 to 18 where they had 13 stops. They are taking the entire 80 mile journey from Chimney Rock, NC to Del Rio, Tennessee along the Buncombe Turnpike/Drovers Road, which was the route the original artist took in 1870. Travelling by horseback, foot and boat, artists will intermittently join them to depict the landscape from Fenn’s original vantage points. The general public and local artists are invited to meet them at any of the eight locations left along the route.
Here is part of the itinerary:
May 13th 11 am – 2 pm “Mountain Island “(#4) vantage point (accessible only by boat)
May 14th 10 am – 2 pm Lover’s Leap Views (#6, #7, #13) in Hot Springs
May 15th 10 am 12 pm “Ferry on the French Broad” (#11) in Hot Springs
May 15th 1 – 3 pm “Scene on the French Broad” (#5) in Hot Springs
May 16th 2 – 5 pm “Paint Rock”(#2) & “French Broad” (#3) in Hot Springs
May 17th 9:30 am – 12 pm “The Smoky Mountains” (#1) along Paint Rock Trail in Hot Springs
May 17th 6 am Camp-out and Celebration at the Hillside Farm vantage point near Del Rio, TN
May 18th 10 am – 1 pm “A Farm on the French Broad” (#8) near Del Rio, TN
“This has just become a great device to raise awareness and interest because people just like the story of before and after. Artists depend on these places for their muse and inspiration. They don’t want to lose them either,” Vern says.