GPS? Mapquest? Not for fans of hand-drawn maps

BOSTON, Sept 13 (Reuters Life) - As high-tech mapping services such as Garmin, Google and MapQuest make finding directions easier than ever, a new movement has revived interest in maps made by hand, as a route toward personal expression.

Lola Pellegrino drew this map for an ex-boyfriend to let him know she was still around after he broke up with his latest girlfriend. REUTERS/Lola Pellegrino/Handout

Ingrid Burrington plotted encounters between strangers in New York City that were noted on the “missed connections” personals section of Craigslist, a website for classified listings.

Marilyn Murphy mapped the sites of her stomach injections to treat juvenile arthritis - a practical guide for her next shot as well as a testament to her illness.

Scott Schuldt used methods and instruments of old surveyors to chart his rambles in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and plots them in the folksy, primitive scale of strides to the inch.

These maps and hundreds of others are featured on the website of the Hand Drawn Map Association (, and in a new book, “From Here to There: A Curious Collection from the Hand Drawn Map Association.”

The book was compiled by the group’s founder, Kris Harzinski. Some maps are drawn by artists, while many are by people whose lives are revealed by the paths they record.

“What these maps really do at the end of the day is they tell a story about a place, a very specific story, a single individual’s interpretation or knowledge of a place,” said Harzinski, a Philadelphia artist and graphic designer.


He is one of a growing number of scholars and artists interested in the use of maps for expression or entertainment, far beyond the traditional directional role rapidly being taken over by Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) systems and online maps.

Some of the maps are in an exhibit that opens September 23 at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery in New York. Harzinski and two contributors to the site will also be discussing the project at the New York Public Library on September 15.

“There’s just been a real surge in interest on the part of contemporary artists in using the concepts of cartography in their work,” said Katherine Harmon, curator of the Pratt show and the author of two books on the expressive use of maps.

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She said the movement has been simmering since the 1960s, when painter Jasper Johns created a smudged, vibrant map of the United States, and has gained rapid momentum in recent years.

Harmon believes there is a human “mapping instinct,” but she acknowledges the idea is disputed among map experts.

Schuldt, a Seattle artist and former Boeing engineer, makes maps to connect more deeply to the world around him.

“Making the map forces me to be hyper-aware,” he said. “The concept right now is to figure out how to communicate the value and the concept of knowing where you are, as opposed to knowing what your location is.”

He added that GPS tells your location from a sky-down view.

“The thing with (my) making the maps is, it’s all done from the ground up,” he explained.

Schuldt’s two contributions to the association are made from hand surveys in Seattle’s Discovery and Volunteer parks. He has also used a map of a Washington settler family’s berry-picking route as the theme for an embroidered beadwork, complete with handmade copper map case.

New Yorker Matthew Rodriguez, a marketing professional with a video-game firm and a blogger, frequently sketched maps to get around his East Village neighborhood.

“My friends mocked me,” he said, for being a digital professional who lacked a GPS smartphone.

He got a smartphone. But when he knows he will be in an area with poor reception, he will map his route on paper.

Some maps in Harzinski’s collection are fictional. Shane Watt, for example, drew a map of “Empatheia,” a megalopolis with mashed-up sections from major cities around the world. The map’s theme is a military industrial city of the future, with a Wal-Mart Farms Complex, Hamas Road and State Security Ctr.

Other maps are intensely personal, like New Yorker John Hutchinson’s map of his route from Manhattan to Brooklyn on September 11, 2001, annotated with his thoughts as he watched the Twin Towers burn, or Chris Collier’s “Remembered Map of a Childhood World,” in south Cambridgeshire, England.

Other maps tell stories. A German couple sent in a map of a house where they had stayed, found chillingly in files kept on them by the former East German Stasi secret police.

Harzinski likes maps that reveal the world view of their creator. The first map he collected a North Dakotan’s map of the United States, drawn in Glasgow, Scotland in 2000, shows the Midwest well-rendered. But the state lines get shaky farther from home -- New York is shown south of Pennsylvania.

Fans of hand-drawn maps are marching against the crowd. Tens of millions of GPS devices are in use around the world. But people still get lost.

The book includes a contribution from Christian Herr, who sketched on a sugar packet and an old notepad directions home after getting lost in western Pennsylvania using directions from Google Maps.

“Google Maps says 3.25 hrs. Real time 5 hrs,” he wrote, “to heck with Google Maps.”