Charlotte Strick’s United States of Cartographic Collage
A couple of weeks ago, we were all obsessive cartographers with our eyes on Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, and all manner of blue and red in between.
So it’s with great catharsis that we can take a step back and bask in the beauty of a nonpolitical map for a change.
In quarantine, Charlotte Strick of Strick&Williams, who also serves as art editor and designer of The Paris Review (and has created so many brilliant book covers that we’re not sure where to even begin), has produced a collaged map using found objects.
Below, Strick shares a bit of her process behind the project … which might just make the day of the designer on your holiday shopping list. Just saying.
Tell us about the genesis of this map. Where and how did it begin?
A state flower map from the early 1900s hangs in my brother and sister-in-law’s home in California. I adore it, and for years, instead of counting sheep on restless nights, I’ve been puzzling out how to make one of my own. Then in February, I finally laid a 30" x 40" sheet of paper down on the floor and began by assembling rough templates of each state using scraps of found paper to work out the scale. Before I knew it, my plans for a flower map were pushed aside and this patchwork of states took on a life of its own—expanding north, south, east and west.
Have you always had a love of maps?
I adore maps. My mother keeps a spiral-bound road atlas of New England in her glove box that I remember from the ’80s. She hangs onto it because she secretly trusts the cartographers over her car’s GPS. And I’m so glad she does because every page is a tangle of brilliant offset colors—a maze of fine roads veining out in all directions—that I never tire of staring at.
Tell us about all the materials that went into it. How big of an archive of found material do you have?
I’m always adding to my boxes of paper and fabric scraps, and those that found their way into this map include: painted papers from past design projects (see Texas and Florida); pieces from discarded collages by my husband (see Alabama and Louisiana); flea market ephemera (see Washington state and Pennsylvania); choice bits of wrapping paper (see Colorado and South Dakota); and contemporary cardboard packaging (see Rhode Island, a fragment from a neon green lottery ticket, and Massachusetts—which I tore off from a box of mango Fruit Roll-Ups).
What ultimately dictated which material was paired with each state?
The decision for “what goes where” was driven mostly by an instinct for color and texture. As with a jigsaw puzzle, I established some of the large shapes early on and then built around these. The weathered tag standing in for North Dakota, for instance, felt like it couldn’t have lived anywhere else. However, Pennsylvania is cut from an actual postcard once mailed to Lancaster, PA, and Colorado is a photo of Pike’s Peak that a friend used as gift-wrapping. I’m aware that the states are not entirely geographically accurate. Fine border details have been lost with my rips and tears.
People have asked me if the papers were collected from each of the 50 states. If only I could have visited them all to have made that possible; what a story that would have made! My map is ultimately more personal, as so many of these papers are mementos from long-ago adventures or exchanges with friends and family.
Have you been working on other personal projects throughout quarantine?
After I completed the map, it freed me up to obsess over the state flowers again! In the past six months, my family has spent more time outside of New York City due to the lockdown. I carted my paints and papers with me, toggling between my life and work online and sculpting and inventing outdoors. I frequently battled the wind that often carried my small torn papers away.
Thirty-five state flowers, also made from painted papers (but more dimensional and intricate than the individual state shapes) are now in various stages of completion. The biggest surprise so far is how many states claim violets as their own.
Working with paper and paint is very meditative, and it allows for a different way of solving visual problems than designing on a computer obviously does. As tensions rose to new heights this summer over racial injustices, police brutality, fears of election fraud, massive layoffs, school closures, evictions and rising homelessness, and of course the shocking loss of life due to COVID-19, it was an unexpected comfort to begin to build this body of work that celebrates the country that many Americans fear they no longer recognize as their own. This map, with all its varied textures and colors, rips and deep cuts, still retains a lot of joy and hope; I want to pass that on.
How do you regard this work in relation to your day job?
In my work for our studio, Strick&Williams, I spend a tremendous amount of time scouting for talent and exploring trends and techniques in fine art, photography and illustration. Stepping away from email and the lure of internet rabbit holes to focus on personal projects has been rejuvenating—a silver lining of the lockdown.
Where can people pick one of these up?
The 30" x 40" maps are $250, unframed. All prints will be signed, rolled and shipped directly from a small fine art printer in Brooklyn—that, like all local businesses, needs our support now more than ever.