Look Up Asheville: An Architectural Journey presented the design and social history of thirty-two of the city’s beloved buildings. In Look Up Asheville II, photographer Michael Oppenheim, essayist Laura Hope-Gill and designer Michele Scheve have collaborated to bring the stories of thirty-two more buildings to life. This collection draws greater attention to the work of James Vester Miller, the slavery-born contracting magnate. Miller’s partnership with Richard Sharp Smith, Asheville’s most prolific architect, spans Asheville’s real estate heyday. The duo created civic and religious structures, including St. Matthias Church, Hopkins Chapel and YMI Cultural Center.
“Miller and Sharp Smith’s expertise and dogged perfectionism shape this city. Theirs was a partnership for all time,” says Hope-Gill, who drew her research from archives, oral histories and conversations with “old-timers” and preservationists alike. Robert Morgan, author of Gap Creek and Lions and the West, writes in the Foreword, “This volume gives us an opportunity to see anew a community’s past and present, on the way to rapidly changing future, celebrating monuments, parks, churches, inns, mansions, public buildings and those who made them, those who make their lives in them.”
The book presents Oppenheim’s photography featuring architectural details often overlooked or under-examined in the course of a busy day: a shale roof, a shimmering gold acanthus leaf, a pair of hand-carved wings, details that reflect the aesthetic of the first half of the twentieth century. Asheville has long appealed to aesthetes. “The Arts and Crafts Movement, brought to Asheville by Sharp Smith, is a precursor to today’s sustainability movement. I have no doubt that this aesthetic plays a role in Asheville’s current media popularity, even if people don’t know anything about architecture,” says Hope-Gill.
Arts and Crafts is only one style explored by Asheville’s architects. Look Up Asheville II features the I.M. Pei Firm’s Biltmore Building, offering insight into the firm’s motives, which are often questioned by the terra-cotta-and-brick enthusiasts in town. Hope-Gill and Oppenheim also turn their eyes upon the Victorians of Montford and Chestnut Hill and explore the history of Kenilworth Apartments. Look Up Asheville II also features an In Memoriam section for the beloved Richmond Hill Inn and Stephens-Lee High School.
Hope-Gill, who moved to Asheville four times between 1978 and 1998, has seen Asheville change over the past two decades. “Each time I came back I wondered what was going on? Everything was always different.” Writing the history, she says, gave her a chance to look closely at the creative, medicinal, economic and social past. “I came to see that while the city is always changing, the forces that define it remain the same.”