Alan Shuptrine and Sharyn McCrumb team up for innovative new project
Local watercolor artist Alan Shuptrine has had a lifelong connection both to painting and the heritage of Appalachian people. Currently, he is swept up in a project to create “The Serpentine Chain Collection”, wherein Shuptrine will hike sections of the Appalachian Trail, capturing the essence of the small towns and their folk along the way.
Some of his paintings can be done in “plein air,” while out on the hike, but mostly he sketches a few studies, then heads back to paint them in his well-lit Lookout Mountain studio.
So far, Shuptrine has hiked in all four seasons, and through nine of the fourteen states along the trail. In a few weeks he leaves for New York, and will then travel south to concentrate on some places he loves in Maryland.
Shuptrine hunts images with what his father called “the x factor,” and prides himself in knowing right away when one would make a great painting. His father, award winning artist, Hubert Shuptrine, partnered with acclaimed Southern poet and novelist James Dickey, to create the book, Jericho, The South Beheld (1974), to capture the spirit of the rural South.
Alan Shuptrine felt inspired to follow his father’s lead in teaming up with an author with a similar heart for the region. That's when he discovered the work of Sharyn McCrumb. He read a description from one of her novels of the taste of honeysuckle in the air on a late summer evening and says he sensed an ideal match in her language for the atmosphere of his paintings.
This came as a relief for Shuptrine who paints in an effort to communicate where his own words fall short. His favorite quote is from artist Edward Hopper, “If I could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint.”
Beyond her ability to articulate the atmosphere of Appalachian communities, McCrumb enriched the collaboration by introducing the lore of the mineral serpentine that runs beneath the Appalachian chain and may deepen the area’s Scots-Irish settlers’ sense of rootedness to the land.
Shuptrine is enthusiastic about serpentine, as his paintings are a study of the magnetism of home and a sense of place. For McCrumb, serpentine serves as a mineral link connecting the ancient landscape of the old Appalachian Mountains to the serpentine veins also found in the British Isles, where these communities can trace their cultural roots.
Eventually, Shuptrine would like to continue hiking and painting in the UK, then show his finished work in several British and Scottish galleries. At this time, Shuptrine considers himself to be a little farther than halfway through the project, which will culminate in a series of gallery and museum shows, starting with a show at the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville (opening June 8, 2017).
Quality gear is essential because Shuptrine’s camera (he is collecting video footage as well) and painting equipment can be quite heavy. Luckily, local outfitting store, Rock Creek, supports Shuptrine’s commitment to hiking and sweating over the rocky landscape along the 2,155 mile stretch of the Appalachian Ttrail.
Although they cannot offer a full sponsorship, the owners have offered a helpful discount to support Shuptrine’s project. He usually hikes with a heavy pack (upwards of 50 lbs.) and his trusted trail mate, an adorable German Shepherd named “Captain.” Shuptrine continues to experiment:
“Sticking to the trail for images fails to give the range I’m looking for, so I’m adapting to focus on the people I meet and talk with in the towns scattered throughout the length of the AT.”
As for financial support, Shuptrine is grateful to have several private investors already collecting works to be included in the show, and eventual book. He feels very honored to be able to name one notable local investor, the famous fiddler, Fletcher Bright, who’s already the subject of a previous Shuptrine portrait.
Shuptrine is also supported by his wife Bonny, and his agent Rachelle Haddock who helped him raise initial funds during his November 2014 Kickstarter campaign. Since then, the team has continued to garner support from businesses like Tennessee Stillhouse, serving Chattanooga Whiskey at the various gallery openings in the states where it is currently sold. Shuptrine is proud of his local art community, and hopes his project inspires others. He says that the idea for “The Serpentine Collection” resulted from a true “aha moment,” which he then chased.
“I realized, I’m 52, and I need to get going! So think it, then go create it. That’s a good motto.”
To contact Alan Shuptrine, visit his website at shuptrines.com
Illustration: "Deep Creek" by Alan Shuptrine