Thoughts of the Lowcountry of South Carolina and its Rich History

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As I’ve worked through the entire coast of the state and corresponded with many enthusiastic residents who’ve made purchases from the first group of maps that I issued, I’ve really grown in my appreciation of the varied history of the area.  While almost anyone with a little knowledge of US history knows something about Charleston and Fort Sumter, this really only begins to scratch the surface.  As numerous folk have generously pointed out to me, there’s really a lot to explore throughout the coastal areas, such as Sullivan and Edisto Islands with their forts, plantations and dramatic natural features, and people are still actively connected to this past and want to share what they know.  And, despite quite a lot of material on the subject being available, beautiful and comprehensive visual representations of the context, such as what I strive for in my maps, are not nearly as prevalent.  Similar to a then-and-now map comparison that I did a number of years ago of an island in New Jersey, when I physically started to compare the same areas roughly 100 years apart, the dramatic differences that have resulted from major events as well as coastal actions, become very apparent.  Wind and water, along with man-made activities, contributed strongly to significant shifts of land, rivers, coastlines and structures.   I’ve become thoroughly engrossed in the choices involved in “getting it right” as well as wanting to authentically represent these areas of the late 19th Century in a way that will resonate for the people who are still connected to it, as well as for anyone else who may just decide to investigate it.  Like my other historic map, it takes longer to pull together, as properly doing justice to the trove of information is not just a matter of checking it with an atlas.  Historic documents often conflict with one another and the standards of exactness vary broadly over time.  Still, I’m quite pleased with how it’s coming along and I feel like I’ve learned a lot about an area that, although I was aware of, was not really very familiar.  It has been anything but tedious and I hope to complete the map in the coming months, but I’ll surely have a tinge of sadness for the end of the exploration.  Hopefully others will get a share of these feelings when they see the result.  Keep a lookout for the South Carolina Historic Coastal Map.

 Cheers, Joe

 

It’s Shark Week!

SHARKAs a resident of the Jersey Shore and an ardent mapmaker, it is almost inevitable that I’d be interested in its history. So it was especially intriguing for me when, a few years ago, a local acquaintance started talking up the Shark History of the area. Several excellent books were recommended, “12 Days of Terror” and “Close to Shore”, which describe the singular Shark Attack events of the Summer of 1916.

It was so engrossing, almost too hard to fathom, that I was inspired to make a “Summer of Blood” Shark Attack Map which depicted all of the locales from the first attack in Beach Haven, LBI north to the last ones in the Matawan Creek. It was fun and enlightening to illustrate the series of attacks which became the eventual backstory for JAWS. Now, the 100th Anniversary of these grizzly attacks has arrived. Nothing like them has happened before or since, so those 12 days in early July remain unique and continue to pique our imaginations.

Imagine the start of an especially hot summer; polio is rampant in the cities; President Wilson relocates the Summer White House near Sea Girt; the world press is gathered at the Jersey Shore; the US is about to enter World War I; German U-boats patrol off the coast. And then sharks start attacking swimmers! This confluence of events and the ensuing frenzy were almost too much to imagine. How could anyone with a pulse not be fascinated by the daily reports? Steven Spielberg certainly thought so. And now, 100 years later, we look back and rekindle that same fascination all over again. There were never any final explanations or resolutions. Why did these attacks happen and could they happen again? Clearly our interest in sharks continues to grow. The ocean is an endless source of mystery and wonder.

 

Why the Chesapeake?

20151007_202348 (2)Why bother to map the entire Chesapeake Bay, you may ask?  The answer is a bit like the old cliché joke, “because it’s there”.  This enormous inland body of water, spanning substantial parts of Maryland and Virginia, has so many iconic connections to East Coast lives as well as the United States’ history, that it begs the question.  As my interest in Coastal Art Maps specifically focuses on interesting situations where land and water meet, depiction of this great sand-bottomed sea presented nearly limitless opportunities to explore those interests, resulting in a series of 10 maps to achieve a scale that would do it justice.  Big cities, historic towns, classic seaports, islands and marshes, bridges and harbors, dots its entire 150 mile length.  Naturalists, boaters, hunters and fishermen, historic naval and merchant sailors; they have all plied the Bay.  Baltimore and Annapolis, Norfolk and Virginia Beach, the James and York Rivers, Hampton Roads and Cobb Bay.  All names that resonate in our subconscious and conjure images of seafarers are their adventures.  Is the Chesapeake not endlessly fascinating?  Why indeed!

Who Do I Map? Thoughts on the Latest Group and the Larger Whole

pic-1We are proud to announce the release of the second of three collections of the entire Chesapeake Bay and surrounding area, depicting the iconic inland sea which spans some 150 miles north-to-south, in Maryland and Virginia.  This group completes the Maryland part and the final group, due out later this year, will encompass the entire Virginia portion.  It is a big undertaking but really provides a comprehensive look at the most significant body of water on the east coast of the US.  Studying this complex, diverse area has provided me a really challenging and rewarding task and we are really pleased with the results.  Viewing each map singly or as a group gives a really clear understanding of the contrasting land-water relationships that make up this immensely popular area of the mid-Atlantic region.

These maps are part of Coastal Art Maps’ growing oeuvre of hand-drawn, water-colored maps that encompass a significant portion of the east coast from Massachusetts to Florida.  These unique, detailed art pieces offer a valuable perspective on one of man’s enduring pursuits of knowledge.  This ageless love of maps; representing the attempt to master the 3-dimensional world in a 2-dimensional document, continues to fascinate despite the fact that the entire world is at our fingertips through electronic media.  These viscerally satisfying, accurate cartographic documents, displaying the endless variety of where the land and water meet, allow us a bird’s-eye view of familiar locales while fostering an understanding of their place in the larger geography of the country and world.  These keepsakes offer equal pleasure for both the expert collector and the casual novice, as well as for anyone who enjoys the seashore and its natural wonders.  I look forward to sharing this experience with all who join me in the enjoyable task of mapping our surroundings.

 

Thoughts on the Season to Come

As I sit here on the eve of the first day of Spring, watching the snow fall, I’m reflecting on the choice of this year’s maps.  As the dregs of winter provide some of my most productive periods of sustained work, two new maps are rounding into finished form.  Similar to those of the Florida Keys, these maps reflect suggestions/requests from some of my correspondents and also respond to some visceral “aha” moment in my own head.  Still a bit of self-reflection on why Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard resonated for me seems appropriate.

These iconic New England island islands are rife with history, both from the country’s earliest days and more recent.  Beautifully sited south of the Massachusetts/Cape Cod coastline, they face out to the Atlantic Ocean and have launched thousands of ships from their well-protected harbors.  Long at the center of the lucrative whaling industry, the islands were home to industrious and prosperous sea-farers and their related supporting groups.  While whaling has long ago ceased as an activity, the idyllic qualities and prime location of these isles has continued to attract a truly American mix of A-list celebrities and politicians who seamlessly mesh with the regular folks who give these places their pulse.  These discreet summer retreats, even for a number of US presidents, provide such enjoyable activities in a maritime setting that is quite removed from day-to-day drudgery yet easily reached by plane and boat.

I guess I want to visit again soon…and mapping is the next best thing!

 

To Market, to Market

To Market, to Market—So a given map is “finished”.  Now what?  Photograph it.  Create a digital record file.  Copyright it.  Decide the final production sizes.  Choose materials such as art paper, canvas or other.  Sample color separations, shades and transparencies, UV protected inks and degrees of finishing.  Finally, print finished samples for presenting and marketing and adding to the website, along with promoting new entries to make the best effort at reaching and informing the largest possible audience.  And, do I really know who these people might be?  Are the only really interested folks those with some connection to the specific locale or will this map have broader appeal?  How to decide this or somehow market-test it?  Why do buyers really like or want to own a map?  These very fundamental questions go to the heart of producing these artworks and the desire to put them in front of others to see if their reaction is as positive as my own.  A part of this relates to my hopes for the website; to reach beyond easy, geographic boundaries and connect with unexpected and unknown “others”.  Who visits the site, when and why, is pretty fascinating.  Is it just to see maps or is it their connection to the water and related activities or is it a gift for a house warming or Father’s Day?  Each of these visitors could represent a different promotional, marketing strategy and all are valid viewers.  But finding them and being responsive is the trick.  What I’ve been doing so far has been working fine.  Now I’m trying to stretch to another level by putting stuff further out there and seeing what comes back.  All thoughts on this are welcome.

Finishing Touches

Once things are drawn and painted, what remains to finish up the maps is the words and symbols that complete peoples’ expectations.  The labels, graphics and type fonts that help viewers orient themselves and understand the areas depicted are critical to engaging them.  The names of familiar towns, notable landmarks or bodies of water, etc. all serve to connect with and draw someone in.  How elaborate or decorative they should be depends partly on the style of the overall images but also on establishing a hierarchy  of importance of the information.  The biggest, fanciest letters usually represent the most important words.  The main title (A GENERAL PLAN OF…), a big town (NEW YORK) or a large area of water (ATLANTIC OCEAN) deserve more emphasis than a small pond or a back road.  Lesser elements are still important but the order of magnitude needs to be respected and fall with peoples’ expectations.  Otherwise, the mapmaker can be suspected to be a poor judge of choices and all aspects of the map can be called into question.  Does the North Arrow really point north?  Is the Scale truly reliable?  Can that distance shown really be a mile?  This is literally “territory” that no mapmaker wants to find themselves in.  How to convey this most basic of informational pieces completes and validates the finished product.