Why DO we love maps so much?

“Oh, I just love the maps,” say many people upon seeing my latest collages. I confess that I too am a map lover — or more properly a cartophile. I saved a box of old road maps for nearly 15 years before I found their perfect use.

New (to me) maps came my way recently thanks to a friend and the IU Surplus Store. The maps were decommissioned from the Indiana University branch of the U.S. Geological Survey, and feature geological features from around the United States. As I sorted amongst these dusty gems for several hours, I began to wonder, why DO we love maps so much?

Maps bring back memories

The coast of Maine has one of the longest coastlines in the US. Its undulating pattern is captivating. I love this map because my cousin was married in Boothbay Harbor. She and her new husband took a tugboat ride to the reception and we all gathered on a bridge that rotated to let them pass. Truly memorable.

Maps show our struggle to structure our world

If you have ever tried to drive across the Appalachian Mountains, you can perhaps sympathize with previous generations of travelers. The geology of compressed ridges requires that roads go up one valley, and then down another. There are no straight routes, no one perfect pass.

Maps catalog what is lost or is in danger

This is a section of a map of Glacier National Park published in 1938. The Burlington Northern Railway built Sperry Chalet as a way for its rail travelers to enjoy the backcountry. Chalet visitors would have marveled at the Sperry Glacier, which has been shrinking because of global warming. The chalet itself was gutted by the Sprague Fire in 2017. Thankfully, it is being rebuilt, as it is a picturesque place to stay in the backcountry, safe from the grizzly bears that frequent the park.

Maps give us a bird’s eye view

North Dakota is one of my favorite places for a road trip. Bright yellow-green fields are punctuated by “numerous small lakes” as the map indicates. These lakes are a very particular blue as they contrast with the vibrant greens and yellows surrounding them. You can read more about my love of the terrain here.

Now back to cutting these beauties for the next collage.

Why do you love maps? Share an image of them in the comments!

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Every piece has a story

When is the story of a piece of artwork helpful, and when is it best to allow the viewer to create the story? This is a constant tension that I experience when I create and write about my work. Many of my images are inspired by actual places I have visited, or places that inspire me. People often see different things, which argues for the universality and diversity of our human experience, and this is delightful.

But sometimes people really want to know where the inspiration comes from. I recently came upon a short essay I wrote about driving across North Dakota. My linocut, March of the Cumulus, shares this inspiration, from a slightly different vantage point. Here are both:

bird's eye perspective of yellow green fields and clouds

Elizabeth Busey. March of the Cumulus, Reduction linocut on Rives BFK. 13 x 28in, ed of 28.

Praying at High Speed

There is a thin place where this world and another almost touch on Interstate 94 in North Dakota. I have only experienced it from the windows of a minivan, driving at 80 miles per hour. It is either the very beginning or the very end of a day in our journeys to western Montana. In the middle, where your mind says “Stop and stay a while” but your body says “Just keep going – I cannot abide yet another day in the car.”

It is a holy drive of sorts. Windows up – it is only with my eyes that I am able to take in the grandeur of creation. Vast undulating planes of vibrant greens and shocking chartreuse unfold before me like an origami spring let loose. The fields are new wheat, milo, or rapeseed.  Over a small ridge, and suddenly the Tournesols – the sunflowers – slowly point the way to the source of all energy.

At 80 miles per hour, I feel slow and meditative. Cruise control on, my feet relaxed, the car steers itself ahead with little input from me. At once a jewel comes into view – a small lake with the dead white carcasses of trees sticking out topped deliciously with black crows. What color blue is this? I am going by so fast that I cannot guess – but it is a hue I carry inside me.

The July sky is cloudless. The sheer vastness and weight of our cerulean atmosphere presses down on everything.  We are slicing through a kaleidoscope carpet of colors held fast by this immense sky above as my prayers begin.

A prayer for the farmers and their difficult life. Being a farmer means risking your livelihood against capricious storms and winds and pestilence – against banks and markets and tariffs.

A prayer for the land. Little I see is in fact nature-made. The fields are planted atop soils that used to host prairies.

A prayer for the creatures that used to live in these prairies. Those that roamed along or crawled beneath or soared above. Now it is just the crows that call this place home.

A prayer for those whose footsteps and hoof prints used to make tracks in this land. For the sadness of their loss and the hope that their spirits might connect in new ways with forgiveness.

One hand on the steering wheel – my prayers emanating from this tiny capsule — carried off by the wind.

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Celebrating memorable imagery

This image has been on my Iphone home screen ever since my first model. I captured these clouds with an Iphone 3 from the passenger seat of our 2000 Sienna minivan, as we hurtled west on I-94 through North Dakota. For all of the jokes made about North Dakota being uninteresting, I find the state a beautiful place to travel through by car. In the summer, the skies really are this intense blue, with horizons that stretch for miles and fields of bright yellow rapeseed punctuating the land.

Highway Caprice

Elizabeth Busey. Highway Caprice. Reduction linocut on Rives BFK, 22 x 16in image size, $350 unframed.

I try not to simply duplicate my photography when I create a linocut, but the cloud patterns I love move so quickly that a photographic record is a necessity. I get to take liberties with all the other aspects of the creation. Here I created a purple underskirt for the clouds, and a haze above the rolling hills. In my photograph, we had a highway rapidly disappearing in the distance, which I replaced with fields of slowly emerging rapeseed.

Rapeseed is the seed used in Canola oil (a combination of Canada and oil), and its flowers are a shocking greenish yellow. Your mind and eyes have a difficult time resolving what you are actually seeing when you come over a ridge and see this colorful splendor.

I did put the suggestion of a trail in my imaginary fields in honor of the many immigrants who probably trod through this landscape over a century ago. How splendid and hopeful this sweep of clouds must have been for travelers who were constantly wondering if they should change course.

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On the road for inspiration

After my crush of spring and summer art shows, I was very grateful to have some time away from my home, studio and art tent.  We are lucky to have family in western Montana and like to visit them during the two months of “high season” in July and August.

Rather than flying, my family loads our trusty van and treks west across some tremendously beautiful topography.  My favorite area has always been North Dakota, where undulating yellow-green fields of rapeseed surround glacial lakes of amazingly dark blue water.  Somehow driving gives me a different sense of the land than flying over it.

(more…)

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