Preserving a Picturesque America

Preserving a Picturesque America

By Emma Castleberry

On Thursday, February 6, the Sierra Club of Western North Carolina (WENOCA) presents Scott Varn’s Preserving a Picturesque America (PAPA). PAPA is an organization that finds and revisits sites depicted in the series Picturesque America, a collection of stories, history and art created by adventure artists in the late 1800s. Many of the sites were influential in the early conservation movement in the US. PAPA guides contemporary artists and writers to return to the same vantage points and create renditions of the book’s images. “Preserving a Picturesque America has the same mission as Sierra Club, which is to ‘explore, enjoy and protect,’” says Judy Mattox, chair of WENOCA. “PAPA is now focusing on its French Broad edition, which covers a broad area around Western North Carolina. I especially enjoyed the 1800s artistic version of Lovers’ Leap and will be interested in seeing the current artistic version.”

A Fine Arts and Media Arts graduate from USC, Varn was so inspired by the accomplishments of the artists featured in the book that he founded PAPA to continue their legacy. “The artists and writers from the original Picturesque America serial were concerned about how long the beautiful landscapes they visited would remain unspoiled and not be affected by human impact,” says Varn. “This was an important message to Americans then, and even more important now. More than 140 years ago they deemed these places picturesque, but what kind of stewards have we been? This project seeks the answers to that question and therefore inspires action.”

Preserving a Picturesque America

Mike Wurman, artist. Photo by Scott Varn

Many sites from the books that have been located are now in national and state parks or other protected areas, while others are on private land. Some no longer exist due to human impact or natural causes. “This is a dilemma in our own region, as well as across the nation,” says Varn. “We have a grassroots goal to create local chapters across the country to get people involved in their own communities to educate, increase awareness and protect Picturesque America sites. We are forming a chapter here that will focus on efforts to protect sites along the French Broad River that were illustrated in the original Picturesque America serial.”

During the Sierra Club presentation, Varn will share before and after photos of various sites from the books, as well as information about the history of PAPA and its progress. “We will also share information regarding upcoming events and how to get involved in our project,” says Varn. “Whether one is an artist, writer, poet, musician or nature lover, we need them to join the adventure and use their voice to help us establish and protect these beautiful places.”

This event is free and open to the public. The presentation begins at 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville, 1 Edwin Place. For more information, contact Judy Mattox at or 828.683.2176. For more information about PAPA, visit

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