A Smile of Understanding

by Glen Creason

In the richly drawn Willa Cather story, a young cowboy named Tom Outland finds a lost treasure while exploring the Mesa Verde of New Mexico and rediscovers a world of mystery and beauty. In "Tom Outland's Story" the boy discovers an entire Anasazi village, a "little city of stone" lost from human sight for centuries and then brought vividly back to life in his eyes and imagination. While chasing cattle, hunting wild turkeys and wandering under the "purple gray of the sky" Tom finds a world made with patience and deliberation but full of magic and fancy. When I first read the story, it awakened my boyhood fantasies that were fired by reading King Solomon's Mines, Treasure Island, Kidnapped, the Hardy Boys and Old Man Applegate and other tales of treasures found by serendipity or skullduggery. Of course finding lost riches is a common fantasy for boys or civil servants but it actually happened to me back in 1989, right on my very own job.

It was a new job then, a promotion to Map Librarian of the Los Angeles Public Library and because I was a humble Liberal Arts back grounded librarian I was forced to take each map by it's corners and figure out what it was and where it came from. Since LAPL owns some 80,000 such friends, the task left me feeling like the little climbers who stand at the base of Mt. Everest and look up. There were lots of abbreviations at first; USGS, DMA, NOAA, AMS and then there were those ten drawers full of old, forgotten curiosities called Pictorial Maps. There were lost villages here called Manhattan, Los Angeles, Peking, and Mexico City. The treasures were not of gold but of paper and oilskin, color and lost history and fancy. These pictorial maps had a tonic effect on me and my patrons. When I pulled them out of those World War I vintage drawers where they had languished for many decades they drew laughs, long study, and sighs of admiration for the detail and cleverness of the designs. The work of these men and women like Jo Mora, E. Dudley Chase, Louise Jefferson, Odin and Coulton Waugh, Bob Waldmire, Miguel Gomez Medina, Robert Cormack and more had languished for years unseen and unheralded.

These treasures, the Pictorials are an under appreciated and once, lightly held branch of cartography that has long been considered worthy only of postcards, lowly matchbook covers, kid's classroom Geography lessons and travel advertising posters hanging in trading posts on dusty roads in the sticks. Yet they have long been important in book illustration, historical atlases, magazine layouts and are for the most part, the maps that most people see first in their elementary education. The funny thing about these humble drawings was that when I pulled them out the open, crowds gathered and oohs and ahs abounded. People fell in love with them and in the process I began to see the value of my "find." Moreover, the Pictorials made the public want to see other maps. These poor, little second cousins to the mighty Mercators, the Ortellius, the John Speed's made mapping fascinating and fun. Of course the Pictorials with their whimsical cartoons and commercial sponsorship from Dole Pineapple to Mentholatum to Cleveland Iron Ore did not have the dignity or depth of the masterpieces of mapmaking but they had spunk and an undeniable charm.

The other thing I found about Pictorial mapmakers is that the more you look the less you find. Beside the magnum opus on the form, Pictorial Maps by Nigel Holmes there is precious little information on the maps or the artists who created them. Many were made by anonymous graphic artists slaving away in the back rooms of ad agencies or in the illustration wing of printing companies. These men and women created these wonders and then receded back into obscurity. The form seems to have flourished from the 1920's to the 1950's with a resurgence in the 1970's but the use and misuse of pictorials continues up to the minute. The collecting of such curiosities may have seemed lowbrow to major institutions but many public libraries ended up with drawers of these neither flesh nor fowl maps because they once proliferated in the United States and were handed out free to anyone interested. Luckily the Los Angeles Public Library was interested.

It can be argued that pictorial mapping can be traced back to the Aztecs and their drawings of people and animals on maps describing the geographic layout of their lands and that pictorial embellishment can be seen on the earliest of maps. Medieval maps made up for in decoration what they lacked in accuracy. It is certain that early maps such as Olaus Magnus' Carta Marina from the sixteenth century use illustration to entertain while informing viewers of the layout of Scandinavia. Moreover, the masterpieces of early cartography are equal parts geography and art. Yet, at a certain point the pictorial left the realm of actual geographic information and crossed over into pure fancy. These maps allowed the artist/cartographers to express their feelings toward a region being mapped with good-natured regional biases, emotion and humor. The work can offer information and aesthetic pleasure that a conventional map cannot provide. As Pictorial maps passed into the vernacular they also crossed the Atlantic and found a home in 20th century America where they thrived. The form flourished as part of American popular culture particularly over the last century with popularity reaching a peak in the 1920's and 1930's.

Railroad lines, greeting card companies, travel agencies, Automobile clubs, cruise lines, chambers of commerce, airlines and companies pushing all manner of products from meat to medicine commissioned artists to compose pictorials, drawing attention, luring visitors and painting small pictures of far away paradises. Sometimes, however; the maps were created just for fun. A perfect example from the golden age of pictorial mapping is the few wonderful cartographical works of Jacinto Jo Mora. Mora, the ultimate renaissance man, was an all-around natural artist who could look at an object and draw it true to life. He also was a restless student of history, culture and local folklore which he collected in his travels around the West and Southwest. His main occupation may have been heroic, bronze sculptures but his little maps have become known as masterpieces of the form, covering Western sites like the Grand Canyon, Monterey, San Diego, Carmel, Los Angeles, Pebble Beach, Yellowstone Park and two marvels of the entire state of California. Originally done at the urging of his son Jo Jr. these maps are spectacular cornucopias of historical facts, local folklore, brilliant color, meticulous geographical detail and more than a few clever jokes. You "read" a Mora map more like a book rather than look at it for a landscape. They take you through decades, inform, astound but mostly delight the viewer. In the lavishly detailed Los Angeles map, published in 1942, Mora jots with typically light-hearted intent "I'd rather find you with a smile of understanding than a frown of research." That little bon mot seems to describe all Pictorial maps. Just letting your eyes wander across the landscape and borders reveals hundreds of historical facts, local landmarks, demographics and delightful anecdotes on neighborhoods and industry in the City of the Angels. There is a dumbfounded dinosaur stuck in the tar of La Brea, universities marked by a bold Trojan (USC), a playful Bruin (UCLA), and a pious Jesuit (Loyola). Population is reflected by ladies wearing the costumes of the period, blowing up balloons showing numbers ranging from the 44 fundadores to one and a half million folks in 1940.

In the California carte he give a history of the Missions, traces transportation on land, sea and air, shows a cavalcade of fashion over two centuries, provides a look at the diffuse ethnicity of the population and adds the ever cheerful admonition "I've tried to make this in a manner to help you keep the corners of your mouth on the up and up during the perusal of my California." Mora arrived from his native Uruguay as a boy, was a working cartoonist at the Boston Herald as a teen, lived with the Hopis and Navajos in the Southwest, was a working cowboy, created thousands of illustrations, paintings, sculptures, wrote several books, had a happy marriage and raised a family and was ever the optimist. To see his maps is to fall in love with a true genius of the art. In the Summer of 1998, the Monterey Museum of Art will host a retrospective of his work.

During the same period but across the continent in New England, Ernest Dudley Chase was busy creating marvelous pictorials in his own right. Chase, the unusual combination of artist and businessman researched, designed and executed some fifty densely detailed maps. Much of his inspiration was derived from extensive travels throughout the United States, South America and Europe. The resulting maps are like travelogues on one sheet and he continued making such beauties right on up into his 88th year. His "United States as viewed by California (very unofficial) in 1940 predated one of the most famous and imitated pictorials of all; Saul Steinberg's humorous New Yorker's view of the United States from Manhattan. Both are typical of jocular regional bias offered in the genre.

Louise Jefferson was another outstanding artist drawing pictorial maps in the 1940's all in her position as the first woman and African-American to act as an Art Supervisor with a major publishing house. The Friendship Press hired Miss Jefferson in 1942 and this progressive organization went on to create many superb examples of pictorials at their very best. Her "Peoples of the United States," Indians of North America," "Africa," and "India" are lessons in history and the accomplishments of all people on optimistic and engaging maps. "Pictomaps" as Ms. Jefferson called them stress the positive role of Christianity in civilization and celebrate the struggles for freedom all over the globe.

Sometimes, the maps are all we have. Such is the case of a series by a Mexican artist Miguel Gomez Medina who fashioned two master works on Mexico and Mexico City. While the two are gorgeously hand-colored lithographs with myths, legends, local facts and even quotes by the scholar William Hickling Prescott biographical information on the artist is so scarce as to be non-existent. Nevertheless, the maps can be admired for their great beauty and marveled at for the fact that they were handed out to guests at the Hotel Geneve in Mexico"s capitol city apparently gratis.

Often it is the case that the artists creating the maps got second or no billing to their employers or that they just fashioned one map and moved on. This is all part of the fact that companies created the maps to do one thing and that was to put their name or product in a good light. Certainly, in the LAPL collection there are some choice examples of great work with little credit. On the other hand the agencies that sponsored such fine work should get some credit. Places like the Automobile Club of Southern California and the Title Insurance and Trust Company brought many great pictorials to life and six California counties joined together to make the "Roads to Romance" series. Other companies took up the torch also and Dole Pineapple, Shell Oil, Del Monte Foods, the Great Northern Railway, and State Tourist boards allowed graphic artists to turn their imaginations loose on maps. One J. Scheurle put together a dandy of Glacier National Park complete with mischievous, frolicking bears for the Great Northern Railway in 1928, no doubt to entice folks to get on the train and see it for themselves. Odin and Coulton Waugh gave California a playful, historical take in 1948 in between drawing the comic strip "Dickie Dare" and painting art that sold. Robert Cormack worked in the late twenties and put together a Jo Mora-like panorama of the Mother Lode in the golden state filled with detail right on down to the grave of the famed bandito Joquin Murrieta.

Out West, artists like Dillon Lauritzen worked for the cartographic wing of the Automobile Club of Southern California and gave us fifty famous landmarks that shows a viewer more in one look than chapter in a history book. The Auto Club put their resources to work on more than road maps and brought to life many a pictorial in the entire span of the blooming of the form. Not too far away the Title Insurance and Trust Company set artists to work like Gerald A. Body to render the "Old Spanish and Mexican Ranchos of Los Angeles County" which taught many a schoolchild where Rancho Topanga and such were situated. In the case of the " Historic Roads to Romance" series, six county chambers of commerce pooled resources to commission Claude C. Putnam and others to paint colorful Southern California landscapes full of local points of interest, historical facts and a dash of fiction (Ramona's grave appears.) The "Roads series spreads magically across Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, Imperial and San Bernardino counties. When San Diego hosted the California Pacific International Exposition in 1935 Shell Oil put up the dough for delightfully playful looks at the Balboa Park spectacle and the hosting city and its dazzling coastline.What all the maps have in common is gorgeous color reproduction, meticulous detail and a sense of humor.

States used pictorials to lure visitors like New Mexico in 1946 when Wilfred Stedman painted the land of enchantment as a haven for hunting, fishing and horseback riding long before new age crystals and Santa Fe chic reached the area. From the thirties to the sixties pictorials appeared, praising all manner of geographical locations and for reasons ranging from commerce to religion. Sometimes they painted a light-hearted view of paradise as in Parker Edward's marvelous glance at the Hawaiian Islands for the Dole Pineapple company in 1937. Local flora and native fish provide a border for a map not too surprisingly, full of pineapples and deep blue ocean. A more unusual travel destination but one addressed in a fine pictorial map was the Caucasus done in 1935 to entice tourists and showing as far north as Stalingrad and south past troubled Chechna to the Caspian sea. Novel perspectives are the norm in pictorial maps and when art and industry joins hands as in "100 Years in the Region of the Great Lakes" by S. Greco for the Cleveland Iron Ore Company we see history interpreted with a slant. In particular to this one is the happy strip mining taking place around Minnesota. Biblical scholar J. Wilfred Owen's "Jerusalem" is a fascinating look at the holy city's political divisions as set forward by the United Nations resolution on November of 1947 and an example of the teaching uses of these maps. Another in that vein would be a picture of the historical panorama of nine hundred years of Medieval Europe done in the 1940's by Edy LaGrand and Alice York and hung in classrooms across America where baby boomers learned of Eleanor of Acquataine by viewing a map.

Often an official government agency produced these lively looks at an area or country, the Secretary of Public Education in Costa Rica created one such colorful beauty for the teaching of geography in that Central American country in as late as 1960. Sometimes the pictorials are tributes rather than come-ons and Frank Dorn's loving but naive look at the ancient and unchanging city of Peiping was created in watercolors in 1936, just one year away from a disastrous war with Japan. The map appears to have been created to boost morale amidst the turmoil of war in Asia by pointing up the great accomplishments of the Chinese people.

Although the time when printing seemed to be the main expression of popular art was the period of the greatest production of pictorial mapping the art continues and blossoms anew today with a vigor that is heartening to admirers of the form. Probably, the most prolific and talented practitioner of the art working today is Bob Waldmire whose densely detailed maps contain more information per square inch than any book in the library. Growing up in Springfield, Illinois, he developed a strong affection for two of his life-long passions; drawing and Route 66. His mother encouraged the talent she saw in her son's doodling and eventually Waldmire studied art at Southern Illinois University. In the late sixties he was inspired by a pictorial map poster of Carbondale by a fellow student. After drawing up his own such version of Springfield he hit the road (that road being Route 66) and made his way across American campus towns making poster sized pictorial maps. A self-professed itinerant hippie artist, Waldmire perfected his craft by making hundreds of such maps during his wanderings across the U.S.

Eventually, life on the road lost its luster and he settled in Hackberry, Arizona right on his beloved Route 66. Since 1993 Waldmire has created the Old Route 66 Information Center, a sort of clearing house of environmental, historical and art information. In it's short life the center has been visited by people from forty three nations and has become the focal point of lore of the legendary road. He continues to work on pictorial maps including a map of the rain forests, one of deserts, and a marvelous series of postcard sized nations of the world. His Route 66 map, however, is his masterpiece containing every mile of the way from the land of Lincoln to a rendering of Jim Morrison of the Doors on the west coast.

There are other talents still making unique pictorials and just in Southern California we have the work of Tom Lamb who created an excellent Los Angeles map that he distributes himself in a sort of grassroots approach to spreading the word. Paul Shaffer, aka Mister Maps, is an example of an artist who works in the genre and earns a fine living doing so with a peripatetic approach to subjects ranging from Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills to Miramar Air Force base to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Shaffer just starts in his car, cruising the streets and neighborhoods of his subject, then walking and then sits down and draws detailed maps showing every building in the area from a certain perspective. Unique Media is a company that depends on commercial support and they create custom pictorials paid for by local business communities. Their map of Jewish Los Angeles is one the most popular in the collection. This being the "Hollywood" area and as such, the main spring of "maps of the stars homes" many such pictorials have appeared but one of the more fascinating is Alice Klarke's "Raymond Chandler Mystery Map of Los Angeles" with locations of all Philip Marlowe's adventures and even bodies of victims located on the landscape.

The "rediscovery" of the Los Angeles Public Library's pictorial collection lead, eventually, to an exhibit in the Summer of 1996 that drew visitors from as far away as New York and introduced an entire new generation to these works of art. The humble but charming little maps made friends in great numbers and increased interest in cartography to an all time high at LAPL. Children were drawn to the color and action and octogenarians remembered first-hand the scenes and eras represented.

At last, I was able to share my treasure with those who truly owned it. For decades this booty had sat undisturbed and now in the light of day the riches found their true worth. All in all, it was as Tom Outland says in his story:

" The excitement of my first discovery was a very pale feeling compared

to this one. For me the mesa was no longer an adventure, but a religious

emotion. I had read of filial piety in the Latin poets, and I knew that

was what I felt for this place. It had formerly been mixed up with other

motives; but now that they were gone, I had my happiness unalloyed."

Author Glen Creason is a reference librarian in the history and genealogy department of the Los Angeles Public Library and has been the library's map specialist for the past fifteen years. He is also a food and entertainment writer for the Los Cerritos Community News, a cartoonist, and the father of a formerly teenage daughter.

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