George Masa, Great Smokies Photographic Artist

An image of Looking Glass Fall taken by Masa. Photo from the Buncombe County Public Library.On June 21, 1933, businessman, naturalist and photographer George Masa died.

Born Masahara Iisuka in Japan in the early 1880s, little is known about Masa’s early life. After his father’s death, Masa immigrated to the United States and studied engineering at the University of California before moving to North Carolina to work at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville.

In Asheville, Masa joined the Carolina Mountain Club, and was exposed to the area’s spectacular scenic beauty. Though it is unclear how he learned photography, he became quite skilled as a lensman. He went to work for a photography studio and eventually became its proprietor.

Masa is best known for extensively photographing and mapping the Blue Ridge Mountains, often in concert with his friend, naturalist and author Horace Kephart. Together the pair tirelessly promoted the region and its people, and they were instrumental in the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Masa presented a book of his photographs of the region to Grace Coolidge, wife of President Calvin Coolidge, who was a frequent visitor to the area and helped spur the founding of the park.

Many of Masa’s photographs, maps and other personal papers are now held by the Buncombe County Public Library, UNC-Asheville and Western North Carolina University.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.