Preserving A Picturesque America, Travelogue: Florence, BLISS Invite, Krafthouse, and New Podcast: June 2023 Newsletter

This month’s newsletter travels across America and to Florence, Italy to explore how art history and the natural world remain relevant in today’s modern art scene.

Preserving A Picturesque America, Travelogue: Florence, BLISS Invite, Krafthouse, and New Podcast: June 2023 Newsletter

June is here! As the temperatures warm up, take a break to enjoy the articles below.

FEATURE: Preserving a Picturesque America: PAPA’s Commitment to Saving Natural and Historic Places Through Art

Scott “Doc” Varn set out for a hike at Yosemite National Park with the essentials—food, water, and a 28-pound book.  Any avid hiker knows that this book must be important, to lug it for miles en route to the destination—and boy, it is. This particular book, a two-volume set illustrating America’s natural wonders called Picturesque America, changed Scott’s life and inspired him to start Preserving A Picturesque America (PAPA).

Learn and see more at PAPA's new space in Saluda. Copyright: RHM Photography LLC

The Mission:

The nonprofit's mission is to preserve natural and historic places through the power of the arts, using Picturesque America—published by Appleton Press in 1872 and 1874—as their “bible” and adventure guide. Scott, an Asheville-based printmaker, leads artists (visual artists, musicians, writers) on excursions to the locations detailed in the book.  This allows them to create work inspired by America’s landscapes, share it with others, and spread the message of conservation. PAPA’s mission not only honors Picturesque America, but adapts it for storytelling through the eyes of contemporary artists.

Picturesque America published circa 1872 / Inside Cover / Close up detail on print

History: A Past Purpose

The purpose of the 19th-century serials was to share and explore the unknown beauty of this land, educating readers of, as the subheading reads, “The Land We Live In.”   After all, without the internet and easy travel, folks relied on books for information. Appleton Press sent creatives into the great outdoors to illustrate the sites with the goals to sell editions and boost national pride. Once the artists ventured out, they found new meaning.

“At the time, [the artists] looked at these wonderful places as inevitably disappearing,” Scott tells Artsville. “They saw progress happening and they knew that these pastoral landscapes and small  towns were going to be industrialized.”
The original steel engraving and the place where it was created on the Hudson River in West Point, NY Copyright: Preserving a Picturesque America

So, they started the conversation of conservation—and an alternative mission came to be. “I like to say the original artists started the conservation movement by accident, through heart and joy and getting their message out. PAPA, in the modern day, is doing it on purpose. We are trying to take that torch and carry it forward. They changed the way we look at the natural world and historic preservation.”

Modern Times:

Currently, PAPA has chapters around the country where artists can explore the surrounding area, create, and connect. Most importantly, PAPA promotes conservation by comparing present renderings of natural wonders to their past forms, ultimately showing the work ahead for preservationists. Scott has led countless excursions—exploring his Western North Carolina homeland, Cloud’s Rest in Yosemite, and the cypress tree “ghost swamp” near New Orleans. Comparing the land over a century later to Picturesque America has led to euphoric experiences and disheartening ones.

Scott at Cloud's Rest looking down on Half Dome in Yosemite Copyright: Preserving a Picturesque America

Scott remembers a trip to New Orleans, where the goal was to visit one of the world’s oldest cypress forests, only to find a single, lonely tree still standing. “This forest is protected, but only after they logged every damn tree except for one. It was almost like Dr. Seuss and the last Truffula tree,” he says, incredulous. The group took a picture of the lone tree, which they showed alongside the original, crowded image, populated with a forest of thousand-year-old trees.

Original Wood Engraving of Lover’s Leap / Scott’s ink wash from the same location / Scott with his modern version -woodcut at the Salmugundi Club exhibition in NY / Scott with his modern version -woodcut at the Salmugundi Club exhibition in NY / Original from Lovers leap in Hot Springs (second angle) / Sandy Moore painting at Lovers leap / Scott Painting at the Smoky Mountain vantage point

“Power of the Arts:”

These escapades, though sometimes devastating, reaffirm PAPA’s purpose.  Scott says, “We want people to embrace the places that still need to be protected…and spread the message that everything that can be protected can be unprotected.” PAPA curates exhibitions featuring the work created on their adventures, and puts on family, youth, and educational programs. They also have an art gallery in Saluda, NC where artwork purchases support the contributing artists and conservation efforts.  Annual membership levels are available on their website, which directly supports their mission. “Something we all can agree on is that our country is an amazing place that we have to protect,” Scott says. “We can do it through the power of the arts.”

For information on how to get involved and support PAPA’s efforts, please visit their website here.

Art Town Travelogue: A Week in Florence

Exploring art history and ways Italian artists are making modern art

Uffizi: Diptych of Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza by Piero della Francesca

Memories of Florence, a city I had not visited for 25 years, remained on my bucket list as the most important city to re-imagine and re-ignite my interest in Renaissance art history. I thought, “Go for the art and stay for the gardens, food, shopping, and shoes!” Oh, those Italian Shoes!

In terms of highlights, I was thrilled to see the conservation of art by Renaissance masters at the Uffizi and Pitti Palace. In addition, the restoration of buildings was made apparent by scaffolding everywhere throughout the city. Traveling with girlfriends, who share my love of design, history, and art, we scheduled our adventure to visit and enjoy old favorite spots while discovering new ones. Some of my more memorable highlights are detailed below.

To Begin: Two Museums Combining History and Modern Art

Palazzo Strozzi introduced me to the curatorial talents that allow the Italian brilliance of juxtaposing classic and contemporary. A dynamic cultural center of international importance offering a high-quality exhibition, “Reaching for the Stars,” centered “GoNoGo” by artist Goshka Macuga’s monumental space rocket within the palazzo’s Renaissance courtyard. The exhibit itself places major works from Damien Hirst, Anish Kapoor, and Sarah Lucas alongside a substantial selection by Maurizio Catalan, whose work is foundational to understanding contemporary Italian artists.

Center stage at the Palazzo Strozzi, Macuso’s monumental space rocket offset by Renaissance architecture. / Bear made of chicken feathers. One of 70 works exploring the stars of today's art world reflecting political, social, and historical issues.

Minutes away, Museo Salvatore Ferragamo was small, intimate, and beautifully designed to show both the history of the family as well as the history of Ferragamo fashion over time- works of art by any standard.  It is not widely known that Wanda Ferragamo, Salvatore’s wife and mother of their six children, headed the company and expanded on his vision to bring Ferragamo into modern times.

‘I urge you to study, to understand, and to read to enrich yourselves with ideas and concepts. Culture and art will enable you to comprehend and overcome the many difficult moments in Life.” - Wanda Ferragamo

Her quote inspires me as integral to Artsville’s future.  Artsville was born during Covid and is growing as a recommended resource to show, tell and talk about WNC’s art and artists.

Exhibition A Palace and the City, 8 May 2015 - 6 April 2016. Museo Salvatore Ferragamo is a company museum, dedicated to the history of the Ferragamo company, the life of its founder and his creations.

Leather, Leather everywhere! Bringing Leather Craftsmanship into the world of Modern Art

Everywhere in Florence, you will find anything in leather that you could possibly want, and it is made by outstanding craftsmen who are getting harder to find.  After exploring, I came away with the softest ever red leather boots and a small shoulder bag. I also became curious as to how the artisans are trained. How fortunate to be directed to the Scuola del Cuoio - a place for education and artisan craftsmanship. The school operates a foundation committed to training and educating six young apprentices each year, giving back to the community as responsible entrepreneurs.

Scuola del Cuoio Foundation

Scuola del Cuoio is an institution where tradesmen work and sell after years of training, in the old novices dormitory, given to the Franciscans in 1455 by the Medici family. It is the largest studio in the city, founded by Silvano Casini and Marcello Gori over 70 years ago who have now passed on the studio to younger generations.

Scuola del Cuoio History

In my continuing adventure to learn more about leather crafts, I later visited Mannina.  Mannina is a historic shoemaker whose shop carries on the leather traditions of specialty shoes that are made to order.

At Mannina, every shoe begins with a model, pattern, and patience - an eleven-month process from start to finish.
Tour and Interview of Mannina

Renaissance Art History Through Its Greatest Achievers

A visit to Santa Croce reveals the history of the Renaissance through its masters. This glorious church provides a walk through the ages to meet the likes of Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Galileo, Rossini, and more. One of the finest examples of early Renaissance architecture is the Pazzi Chapel by Filippo Brunelleschi, the 14th-century cloister adjacent to the basilica. A guided tour is highly recommended.  However, just being in this historical and magnificent edifice brings appreciation for the masters of the Renaissance and an understanding of their continuing significance in a modern era.

Brunelleschi’s Pazzi Chapel at the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence is considered to be an early Renaissance masterpiece. / The tradition of using the church to honor the great and good was revived by Cosimo de Medici in 1564.

Villas and Gardens - Not to Be Missed

Entranced by the classic beauty of the villas and gardens, I absorbed the incredible richness of the rooms of the Pitti Palace and its Boboli Gardens, as well as the Villa Bardini. This final stop, brought full circle the curatorial expertise that allows more contemporary art to shine within the magnificence of a Renaissance structure. Villa Bardini was brought back to life in 2006 and offers the most magnificent views of Florence imaginable. The villa has now been returned to the city of Florence as a museum space, cultural center, and garden waiting to be discovered and explored by all.

Boboli Gardens at the Pitti Palace in the glory of late May. / Best views of Florence from the terrace at the Villa Bardini.

While there, I toured an exhibit by Lisetta Carmi who was both a musician and photographer. She revealed a unique understanding of hidden and intimate experiences so elusive in the 1950’s.  An artist who changed the history of Italian photojournalism, she exposed the public to discomforting social realities of marginalized communities.

And More…

Best meals- Belle Donne, Acqua Al 2, Cantinetta Antinori, Omera

Best shopping- Diva Shoes (Oltrano), La Coccinella Rossa (eyeglass frames), Casa Abitata (hand-crafted jewelry, textiles, art), Massimo Dutta (reasonably priced contemporary fashions)

Memorable experiences and attractions- Scuola del Cuoio- Leather School near Santa Croce, Maninna Shoes, Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens, Piazza Michelangelo, and dinner in the hills above Florence at Omera., Villa Bardini and Gardens, The Great Synagogue, Fiesole (amphitheater and Etruscan Museum.)

The Story of Curating Jim McDowell’s Red Tails Face Jug with Nasher’s Chief Curator Marshall N. Price Ph.D. [Ep21]

On our latest episode, you’ll hear the culmination of our series on Jim McDowell and his Face Jug.

Jim McDowell, his “Red Tails” Face Jug, and Marshall Price

Our latest episode is many months in the making. We are very excited because this is the culmination of a series of features we have written about Jim McDowell and his "Red Tails” Face Jug: A story about how it has ascended into the Nashers Collection of over 1000 objects of African art through the work of Chief Curator Marshall Price.  You do not want to miss out on this amazing episode.  Be sure to check out the show notes here.

Listen Now!

What will Appalachia be like in the future?

You tell us at Krafthouse: The Center for Craft’s upcoming immersive experience.

Look into Appalachia’s future as The Center for Craft presents Krafthouse, a new immersive art installation made for and by the community. Come as often as you like for interactions that will change nightly from September 28 - October 13 in their historic building at 67 Broadway in downtown Asheville. Tickets will be $15.

Jeannie Regan leads the inaugural year as Creative Director with the vision for Krafthouse 2023: Forest of the New Trees. The curious will be rewarded with an installation each night as artist and audience participation weave a story of radical collaboration in Appalachia in the aftermath of world-changing events. The experience includes a self-guided exploration of a strange, new landscape and its imagined ecologies and societies, including cultures, customs, and micro-currencies. A night market welcomes participants to make, gift, and trade goods with the artists and each other, with the opportunity to take home keepsakes – as well as leave their own imprint on the space.

Watch for more details at

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