Many artists from outside East Tennessee came to the area between 1920 and 1950 in order to capture the untamed beauty of the Smoky Mountains. The Smokies had long been largely inaccessible, but intensive logging and the post-World War I development of mountainside resorts opened roads and trails for visitors. This period of artistic interest in the Smokies coincided with efforts to preserve this unique wilderness area, which culminated in the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1934. Ansel Adams, best known for his epic images of Yosemite and other western landmarks, visited the Smokies in the late 1940s and produced several black and white photographs that capture the area’s lush terrain. Chauncey Ryder, Rudolph Ingerle and other landscape painters from around the country often spent summers in East Tennessee, journeying deep into the Smokies to make sketches. Pennsylvania native Louis Jones was so entranced by the area that he permanently settled in Gatlinburg and continued to paint mountain scenes until his death in 1958. Louisiana artist Will Henry Stevens made extended pilgrimages to the Smoky Mountains throughout his career and captured every nuance of the area’s natural beauty in delicately abstracted works.
Ansel Adams is best known for his timeless black and white images of Yosemite National Park and other natural wonders of the American West. Few are aware that in the fall of 1948 he traveled to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park—his first and only recorded visit to Tennessee—in order take photographs as part of a Guggenheim Fellowship on America’s national parks and monuments.
Stevens was a pioneer of modernism in the American South whose abstracted paintings and pastels reflect his deep love of nature from the highlands of Appalachia to the lowlands and deltas of Louisiana. He traveled to the Smoky Mountains in the summers, where he painted primarily in East Tennessee and western North Carolina.