Janet McCue and Paul Bonesteel Explore Photographer George Masa's Fascinating Life: A Smokies Life ‘Missing Issues’ Feature
“Early 20th century hikers in the Great Smokies were likely to encounter a small Japanese man on the trail. He was 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighed a little more than 100 pounds. He might have been burdened with a pack containing a heavy camera, tripod, and accompanying equipment. Or he might be pushing the front wheel of a bicycle connected to handlebars with an odometer attached, a cyclometer, that he used to measure trail mileages. Any conversation with this diminutive man would have entailed responses in broken English. And as likely as not, he would have been accompanied by men and women, his friends, who frequently hiked with him. Years later this same man received a letter written April 20, 1932, from the associate director of the National Park Service, Arno Cammerer, that stated in part, ‘You surely are the Great Smoky Mountains patriot…’”
That's a short excerpt from Bill Hart's article about the enigmatic photographer who was born in Japan but came to America and gave his heart to the Great Smoky Mountains region. His name was George Masa, and Hart's article appeared along with a selection of Masa's photographs in one of our ‘missing issues’ of Smokies Life, Volume 2, #2. These missing issues are no longer in print but are available to view online at SmokiesInformation.org/MissingIssues.
Our guests Janet McCue and Paul Bonesteel are in the process of co-authoring a biography of George Masa. McCue is an independent writer and researcher, co-author of Back of Beyond: A Horace Kephart Biography, and collaborator on many Kephart projects. She is the former director of Mann Library at Cornell University.
Paul Bonesteel is a filmmaker, director, and founder of Bonesteel Films, a production company based in Asheville, NC. His documentary film The Mystery of George Masa (available on Vimeo with promo code "Masa") explores the compelling story of the immigrant who came to the mountains of Western North Carolina, gained employment at the grand Grove Park Inn, connected with many of Asheville's most influential residents, and found his passion in photography and hiking with his friends in the Carolina Mountain Club.
We spoke with McCue and Bonesteel on an online video chat while they were in their respective states of New York and North Carolina.
A digitized collection of George Masa’s photographs can be found online in the virtual "North Carolina Room" of Buncombe County Library's website.