Mapmaker

Green as a life observer, I can only guess why people are, have always been, drawn to maps. I suppose that there is something about being interested in and knowing where one stands that must be directly tied to survival of the fittest. But less utilitarian, more in the reign of human curiosity, there is a hinting within the thin, precise line of the cartographer a richer story: a plagued history, whimsy and twists of fates and weather, the crew of adventurous and explorers, Buddhist monks, British n’er-do-wells, an entire motley lot who saw a dark spot at the heart of Africa or Brazil, or a smiling, frowning coastline that sung a Conradian* whisper, “Come and find out!” and who valiantly did so. For me, a map unearths a simultaneous knowing  that I am somewhere and yet that there are an infinite number of other somewheres too; I feel specific and small, and bursting with elation at my oyster-world. Details, lives, patterns, places, people, wars, tides, emptiness, exoticness, a deeper understanding of one’s domicile plastered together and visually striking.

The blank wall above my desk was begging to tell such a story, and all summer long I have been scouring the city for something suitable. Ironically enough, I wandered through Georgetown Flea Market yesterday Sunday and just happened upon my treasure. Ullrich Jentz is a formidable collector of prints and maps, and after an hour of thumbing through what we discovered composes a mere 10% of his inventory (and doesn’t include the pre-1600 pieces he keeps for himself), we had two armfuls of gold.  Below, two of the five maps or prints we ran away with.

Distribution of Forest Trees, Plants, and Minerals, hand-colored, printed 1870

Distribution of Forest Trees, Plants, and Minerals, hand-colored, printed 1870

Buffalo hunters in Montana, Illustrated London News, printed 1886

Buffalo hunters in Montana, Illustrated London News, printed 1886

Jentz Prints, every Sunday at the Georgetown Flea Market; or 34 East D Street, Brunswick, MD; 301-834-7275;

*Conrad called these “white patches for a boy to dream gloriously over”…Heart of Darkness, so good

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