Is that near Hawaii?

hand-drawn map of the world on a piece of notebook paper
Tony Gonzalez, 2021 [The World]

Tony drew this map for his three-year-old daughter when she inquired about their upcoming trip to a North Carolina island. She asked, “Is that near Hawaii?” In response, he provided an impromptu geography lesson with this accurate memory map of the continents. The pink highlighter shows where she has traveled and the pink dots indicate where she hopes to visit.


hand-drawn map of a trip to the airport
Oskar Smollny, Sending my sister back to Norway after 6 months of lockdown at home, 2021 [Düsseldorf, Germany]

Oskar drew this map while attending our Zoom workshop hosted by the Glasgow Zine Library. In it, he documents a trip to the airport he and his sister took earlier that day. After a six-month lockdown in Germany, his sister was finally returning to her university courses in Norway. He shows us their route from the parked car, through the coronavirus test site, past the baggage drop-off and a quick stop for coffee, ending with a tearful goodbye.

Stairs up to our apartment

Ace Kieffer (drawn at Baltimore DIY Festival), Stairs up to our apartment, 2009 [Baltimore, Maryland]

Ace drew this diagram to document the apartment he shared with two roommates. I’m posting it today it to provide some additional inspiration for Activity 3: Home Poem. Imagine, for example, a similar diagram of your home where the names of rooms are replaced by text found in each space. Ding ding ding! Light bulb!

Neighborhood maps: Philadelphia

Will Haughery, Fishtown, 2010 [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania]
Janel Olah, FWM VIP Party, 2007 [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania]

The maps pictured here are of the Fishtown neighborhood in Philadelphia. Like many neighborhoods, there are no true boundaries of the area, and the definition is somewhat malleable. Haughery’s map makes the case that Frankford Avenue can be considered a boundary between Fishtown to the southeast and Kensington to the northwest.

Olah drew the second map for guests attending a party held for Fabric Workshop and Museum apprentices. She idealizes the somewhat confusing layout of streets and highlights the triangular structure of the area where William Penn’s original grid plan for the city breaks down in unexpected ways.

Atom Smasher

Ashley Kersting, CERN, 2008 [France/Switzerland border] original HDMA web archive: map 89

This map depicts the location of the Large Hadron Collider built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) beneath the France/Switzerland border. Kersting drew it at a pub in St. Paul, Minnesota over a discussion with friends at a local pub. A few days before the particle collider was set to be used for the first time, the group discussed the scientific experiments that would be conducted there. The references to “Cam” indicates the location of their mutual friend who lived in Switzerland at the time.

Mount Whitney Mountaineering Route

Unknown (drawn for Mark Morey), Mt. Whitney, c. 1991 [Sequoia National Park, California] original HDMA web archive: map 54

After not receiving one of the few daily hiking permits to climb Mt. Whitney via the standard Whitney Trail, an experienced hiker suggested Mark Morey and his friends take the lesser-used Mountaineering Route. He sketched this map for them which they used to navigate the nine-mile route in the early 1990’s.

Mark recounts, “over the next two days, we saw no other people except at the summit. We had a lot of route debate [as well as] the most glorious hike and summit of Whitney. On the way up, we found all of the landmarks drawn on the map, however, on our way down, we realized that none of those were the ones he meant us to find.”

How big is Canada? 5 days drive.

Jeff Werner, 7000 km, 2008 [Canada] original HDMA web archive: map 47

Some of the best maps in the HDMA collection relate geographic concepts often drawn to accompany a conversation about a particular place. Those shown here attempt to relate the size and scale of one of the largest countries by total land area, Canada. Jeff Werner drew the map above to explain the size and orientation of the country and the rest of North America to a group of villagers in Bali.

The map below was drawn on a napkin by Peter Flemming for Lars Midboe during a conversation they were having in a bar in Trondheim, Norway. Midboe found the map months later in a bag and scanned it into his computer for safekeeping.

Peter Flemming (found by Lars Midboe), 5 days drive, 2003 [Canada] original HDMA web archive: map 85

I know you love Manhattan, but you ought to look up more often

With a series of map-making workshops at the Museum of Modern Art less than a week away, I’d like to share some maps of New York City from the archive. While the workshops are not specifically focused on drawing maps of the city, we will be using the museum as a point of reference. This has led me to spend some time thinking about the general geography of the area and how we navigate our way through it as well as how the museum reflects the city surrounding it.

John Hutchison, Homage to My Commute Part C: Grand Central Station to the Office, 2009 [New York, New York]

John Hutchison’s map reveals what happens to many of us when traveling in New York. We exit a train somewhere underground and gradually find our way to the surface. While emerging from the cavernous spaces below-ground can be disorienting, New York can be fairly easy to navigate once you reach the street level.

Kris Harzinski, Penn Station/Berger Forum, 2010 [New York, New York]

This easy navigation is thanks to the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 which defined much of Manhattan with a regular, consistently numbered grid of streets. As New York grew, the grid extended to other parts of the city though not in quite as regular a fashion.

Janine Nichols, Manhattan, c. 1980 [New York, New York]

Janine Nichols reveals this regularity through a series of vertical divisions. She highlights important streets and landmarks from her life in 1980’s New York. It features references to, among other things, her job at 30 Rockefeller Center (floating between 49th and 50th streets), her boyfriend at the time joining the Unification Church (indicated by the term “Moonie’s”), and the Twin Towers near her home as they looked at night.

At age 7, Sammy Muench mapped the five boroughs of New York City. He takes us high above the metro area providing an expansive view of the surrounding region. Through the use of big, bold marks, he also captures a sense of the city’s chaotic order.

Sammy Muench, First Map of New York, 2010 [New York, New York]

The title of this post, I know you love Manhattan, but you ought to look up more often, is from Frank O’Hara’s poem “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island.” In it, O’Hara imagines a conversation with the sun who chides the poet for not looking up enough to acknowledge the world above the street level. While viewing Sammy’s map, we take on the gaze of the sun staring down on the entire New York area. We can even focus on Fire Island in the far right margin of the drawing where O’Hara was lazily lounging in his poem.

It is worth noting the connection between Frank O’Hara and the Museum of Modern Art. Before his untimely death in 1966, he worked at the museum first as a front desk clerk and later as a curator. The recently renovated MoMA includes an entire room devoted to O’Hara and notes his practice of writing poetry while on his lunch break. It is an important tribute that brought a smile to my face when I recently visited the new permanent collection.

Krista Shaffer, Trip to New York, May 24 2010, 2010 [New York, New York]

The Museum of Modern Art features prominently in Shaffer’s map above. In it, she strips away the grid of the city to focus our attention on a series of specific events that took place as she visited MoMA in 2010. We also get a sense of how navigating a city while underground results in much of it being mysterious. Here the white space between Midtown in the upper left and the Lower East Side in the bottom right represents the unknown city experienced from inside a subway car.

If you are in New York, please consider joining the HDMA for one of our map-making workshops in MoMA’s new Creativity Lab. Three of the sessions take place during Free Friday Nights with the remaining workshops on Saturdays. If you aren’t in New York, consider sending us a map documenting your visit to a museum near you.