Alan Shuptrine’s Serpentine Chain

The Serpentine Chain: A Buried Appalachian Secret

Alan Shuptrine in his studio
Alan Shuptrine in his studio

Who Am I?
My name is Alan Shuptrine. I am a watercolor artist living on Lookout Mountain in Tennessee. With my wife Bonny, I own a fine arts gallery, with businesses of restoration, conservation, and crafting one-of-a-kind gold leaf frames. All my life I have wanted to paint a collection of thematic watercolors that capture the heart and soul of the Appalachian Mountain culture. I also want to expose the significance and irony of serpentine, a dark green and mysterious mineral vein that lies beneath the Appalachian Trail. My project will have a Coming Home theme: I often ponder why people live where they live, why they feel a kinship to a certain area, or feel a spiritual connection. I find that when you ask people about this, they simply say “it just feels right” or “it feels like home.” I understand that feeling too, and I have always loved family and home. If you ask anyone living along the Trail, “Where is your heritage?”, the majority of them will say English, Irish, Scottish, or Welsh. That’s because they are the offspring of the early British settlers who moved into the rugged Appalachians and stayed there, because it “felt like home”. But there is something deeper than home–a buried secret: Running from Springer Mountain, Georgia and ending in Maine where the Trail stops in Mount Katahdin, the serpentine mineral (image below) is sometimes just inches under your feet and at other times it’s a half mile deep in the mountain. Because of it, we know that Britain was once connected to the Eastern Seaboard millions of years ago. Continental drift pulled Britain away from our coast, and as the Atlantic Ocean was formed, the Appalachian Mountains were severed. Consequently, there is a matchbook vein of the same serpentine in the British Isles which snakes its way from Cornwall to Iceland to the Arctic Circle. So, when the 18th Century settlers moved into our Appalachians, they were actually coming home to the very same mountains (and to the very same serpentine) they had left an ocean away. This is what I find so fascinating ! By creating this collection of paintings, a monument to Appalachian Mountain culture, there can be an awareness that we share more than just traditions with our brethren across the pond.
Serpentine Mineral
Serpentine Mineral

But, I have never been able to leave my work and fulfill this passion. A little over a year ago, my wife and I downsized our businesses to prepare for this dream. We are taking a leap of faith that I will still be able to support my family, both during and after this project is completed.
My interest in preservation and conservation of our wilderness has spilled over into my 30-year career. I’ve been an outdoorsman and sportsman all my life, from childhood days where I would pass the time climbing trees, to later enjoying hiking, fishing, and hunting. My wife and I have always supported the protection of our lands, and we are actively involved in The Tennessee Land Trust, The Lookout Mountain Conservancy, and we support the Tennessee Wilderness Act.
MIst and Lace, watercolor, Alan Shuptrine
Mist and Lace, watercolor, Alan Shuptrine

Now that my two boys are young men, I am more at ease with leaving my family and taking chances! This is my chance to fulfill a dream: to leave a monument of Appalachian Mountain culture, celebrating their heritage and providing a visual testament to the land.
"Twisted", watercolor by Alan Shuptrine
“Twisted”, watercolor by Alan Shuptrine

For the last 20 years, our gallery has sold fine American art to private collectors and museums, including the works of my father, the late Hubert Shuptrine (1936-2006), who was nationally acclaimed and best known for his collaborative coffee table book titled Jericho: The South Beheld (Oxmoor House, 1974). Written by James Dickey, author of Deliverance, Jericho sold over a million copies in its first edition and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Award-winning book, Jericho: The South Beheld
Award-winning book, Jericho: The South Beheld

I am hopeful that my collection of paintings will one day be published in a coffee table book similar to Jericho. My dream is that this body of work, these paintings, will serve as a testament to the culture, the people, and the land along the Appalachian Trail through the eyes of an artist. Below is an image of one of my recent watercolors from the Trail titled Into the Clearing (Smoky Mountains, Tennessee). It is framed in one of my handcarved rustic surrounds with embedded serpentine stones and black mica

"Into the Clearing" with serpentine frame by Alan Shuptrine
“Into the Clearing” with serpentine frame by Alan Shuptrine

This collection will serve as a testament to the history of Appalachia, and will preserve this culture in timeless paintings. In order to capture the very soul of this place and its culture, I will need to immerse myself into it and experience the Trail with my own two feet (I will be hiking and painting along the way). The finished paintings, called The Serpentine Chain Collection, will each be showcased in a one-of-a-kind rustic frame adorned with serpentine stones incorporated into the design (as seen in the example above). My video only scratches the surface of my entire project. I’m dedicating the next several years of my life to it. My fervent hope is for these paintings to be shared with others and exhibited in museums, colleges and universities, and historical institutions in our Eastern Seaboard. Afterwards, I hope they can travel abroad to venues in Great Britain. The educational impact of this project would be immense and it would make for an interesting and inspirational exhibition.

Where Will All This Take Place?

The AT stretches 2155 miles from Springer Mountain, GA to Mount Katahdin, ME. For this first hiking phase), I’m headed to explore and paint scenes of Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and southern Virginia. Our Appalachian Trail passes through 14 states in the Eastern Seaboard Special gear, such as a good pack with a waterproof fly, raingear, and an excellent pair of boots will be needed to kick this off properly. Thankfully, I have the support of Rock/Creek Outfitters (located in Chattanooga, Tennessee). The experts at Rock/Creek will work with me to determine the best gear and tools necessary to ensure a safe and environmentally conscious hike. For getting on and off the Trail, I will be working closely with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and some of our other National Park Service affiliates.

"Falling" by Alan Shuptrine, Hot Springs, North Carolina
“Falling” by Alan Shuptrine, Hot Springs, North Carolina

The exhibit opens on June 8, 2017 at The Tennessee State Museum in Nashville, Tennessee. It will then go to The Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Georgia. Afterwards, the exhibition will travel northward to other museums, historical sites, colleges, and universities. We are thrilled to receive such enthusiastic recognition from these museums, and look forward to solidifying other venues along the way.

Below are images of my hiking companion, Captain, an AKC registered German Shepherd that my wife Bonny gave to me for my birthday this past spring. He is ready to start hiking with me and will be 7 months old this October !

Captain, my German Shepherd hiking buddy
Captain, my German Shepherd hiking buddy

We all know the Appalachian Trail is a rugged path stretching 2,155 miles from Springer Mountain, GA to Mount Katahdin, ME. It was used by the Native Americans for trade and travel routes. And, we’ve all heard stories of hikers and their grand adventures; however, I’m interested in something deeper: Celebrating the connections between the mountain folk of Appalachia with their cultural and historical counterparts in the British Isles.
I want to preserve these people and their way of life so future generations can become knowledgeable about the true people of Appalachia. As time progresses, so many of the “old ways” are being replaced with technology and a faster pace of life. I feel that in order to preserve this heritage, it needs to be captured in a respectful and timeless light, before it is lost entirely.

-Alan Shuptrine
"Eternal" by Alan Shuptrine
“Eternal” by Alan Shuptrine