Getting Lost in Maps

Posted inThe Daily Heller
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If you love maps, find your way to two new map shows—the first being “Picturing the City: Illustrated Maps of NYC.” The exhibition, which runs through April 9, 2018, at the New York Public Library, features 16 maps from the library’s illustrated collection. Spanning 180 years, the selected maps reflect the artistry and inventiveness of their creators. One such below is “The Meltropolis 2118” by Rick Meyerowitz. The show was curated by Katharine Harmon, author of You Are Here—NYC: Mapping the Soul of the City, who has another exhibition at Pratt Manhattan Gallery. Co-curated with Jessie Braden, it runs from Sept. 22 to Nov. 15. Why such an intense passion for maps? I asked Harmon.

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Other than the functional uses for maps, why are they so enthralling as objects of graphic design?Maps have a language of their own, meant to be read with our mind’s eye focused on location. We get satisfaction from knowing where we are in relation to other places, eras, people and so on. Self-orientation is always fascinating.

A map, especially of New York City, is a unique historical record. What are the most distinctive and surprising of the maps in this New York Public Library collection?The first map in the show is a very special holding in the library’s collection. It’s a 1916 redraft of the 1660 Castello Plan, which has a really interesting history—[it was] traced from an original map by the surveyor general of New Amsterdam, which was lost. But a copy was made, which Peter Stuyvesant sent to Amsterdam; that was bound into an album sold to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo de Medici, and there it stayed in obscurity until it was rediscovered 233 years later. The redraft is fascinating … but this is going on too long. Maybe I should say that Rick Meyerowitz’s map of Meltropolis 2118 puts the whole package together—an original map for this show, combining prediction of the city’s future with great humor with great illustration.

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New York – Tallis – 1850

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A description of the towne of Mannados: or New Amsterdam, as it was in September, 1661–1664

With GPS maps now so common, will they have any negative impact on the future of maps?I get asked this all the time. If you mean the future of wayfinding maps, then yes—just look what’s happened to the gas station map. If the future of artistic maps of all kinds, then no—we’ve never had as much creative mapmaking as we do now.

How would you define the perfect map?I like [The NYPL’s assistant director, Maps, Local History & Genealogy] Kate Cordes’ answer to this one: “The one that meets your needs.” The beautiful thing about cartography in its current myriad forms is that it can meet so many needs.

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Greatest New York – Wellge (1911)

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A General view of the Bronx River parkway (1915)

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Redraft of the Castello Plan – New Amsterdam in 1660

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