I have two nieces graduating from high school this month so I’m in the market for a couple of memorable, meaningful gifts. Something to decorate the new dorm rooms, perhaps. Maybe a reminder of home for when they’re far away. As I begin to search for inspiration, one concept keeps popping up at every turn: maps.
As a foodie, a writer, a gardener, maps have not really been on my radar, but as I begin to dig in, this whole world opens up. Maps as infographics and history, deeply personal maps and maps that are stunningly beautiful. Which makes complete sense, right? We are in this place and time when maps — and cookbooks and how-to manuals and printed photos and phone books, these common items that once were so present in our lives — are suddenly not useful any more. We don’t trace our finger along a piece of paper to figure out where to go. We type in an address and Siri does the rest. Which has had the result of turning maps into something of an art form.
So right about this time that I’m falling in love with all that maps can be, an email pops into my inbox asking would I like to receive a free map to possibly review on my blog. “Of course,” I write back. And in a few weeks, it’s here, a lovely black-and-white matte print of my very own city.
Modern Map Art, the company that created it, offers hundreds of similar maps — of cities and countries from Ames to Tulsa, from Brazil to Indonesia. And — as a skier, I love this idea — of ski mountains from around the world. Modern Map Art makes a variety of ways to experience your maps, as well — as prints and pillows, T-shirts and phone cases. The products can be ordered in black and white or a selections of colors. Modern Map Art will even work with you to custom map your place if it’s not already among their offerings.
Modern Map Art was founded and created by Jennifer (she asked that her last name not be used) just last November. She writes on her website that she has been attracted to maps since childhood and that after a honeymoon of traveling the world, she came home inspired to create something that would honor the many cities she had visited. The maps are created in Photoshop and first appeared in an Etsy shop, where they did so well Jennifer felt ready take Modern Map Art into the larger world. She says the ski maps are her biggest sellers.
Jennifer writes that, from above, each city’s layout is unique and telling. And I find that to be one of the most attractive qualities of her maps. Their crisp design and clean lines mean that each place’s story is evident at a glance — how big or small a city is, whether a river runs through it or no, if its design ripples out from the center or if it’s more haphazard and sprawling. The maps create an instant snapshot of a place.
I hang my Roanoke map in my hallway and study its black and white lines to discover my street, the familiar highways I regularly ride, the Roanoke River that shambles through it all. There are just two words written on my map and they feel totally random — I would ditch the labeling of obscure creeks, if I had any suggestions to make.
But overall, my map is a keeper — attractive, meaningful, affordable art. In just the week that it’s been on our wall, it has already created a bit of buzz. Friends look for their home streets and try to find our city’s iconic railroad tracks. Then we talk for a moment about a map’s place in our world these days.
So, of course, I order two for my nieces. One for each college town or city where they’ll be landing come fall. Congratulations, girls. I hope you love your new lives — and your new maps!