What is a Cartographic Story?

A cartographic story is a story that we tie strongly to a place and all the sensory memories connected to that place. Often these stories form major parts of our identity. Everyone has a cartographic story. I paint commemorations of these places and stories so that you can fill your home with reminders of the journey it took to get here.

Sometimes a cartographic story is a story we have to tell every time we pass that certain exit on the highway, or that certain point of the riverbank. Visual landmarks are strong triggers for stories, both uplifting and difficult. Whenever I pass the tiny Northampton, Massachusetts airport I think of those years my family owned an Isuzu Trooper before backseat window laws. My window slid sideways to open all the way and I would stick my whole head out the window while we cruised around “off roading” through the corn fields next to the airport. I have a hundred stories like this for Northampton (forthcoming in future blog posts).

Top to bottom: Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe, California; Holyoke, Massachusetts; The Playa, Black Rock Desert, Nevada; Mt. Rose, Nevada

Top to bottom: Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe, California; Holyoke, Massachusetts; The Playa, Black Rock Desert, Nevada; Mt. Rose, Nevada

Sometimes a cartographic story is not a linear story with a beginning, middle, and end, but it is the vast ocean of repeated experiences that form our habits and our priorities. Home often feels like this. It is a place with not one story, but every story. It is the place of routine and constant reminders of what is important. It is where we live, dwelling among the infinite entirety of what living looks like. Or a cartographic story involves the broad wilderness of a national park or campground where we pilgrim and make temporary homes.

Sometimes a cartographic story is a momentous hurdle in life -- a death, a birth, an injury, a transition -- that inevitably changed us on a fundamental level. Poignant, whether it be sweet or bittersweet, these are the places that shift us on the atomic level, often almost in an instant.

Sometimes a cartographic story is about the ways that travel expands our horizons. Often a catalyst for change, travel helps us develop empathy both for people who differ from us and for those disparate parts of our own selves that we lose touch with.

When you think about your life…
What location most shaped your life’s trajectory?
What place do you still visit in your mind?
Where is your true home?
Where did your whole life change?
What location do you associate with your most formative, happiest memories?
What place shifted how you see the world?

Those are your cartographic stories.

I have had the privilege to listen to many cartographic stories this week as I prepare to paint a whole set of commissions from the tiny art sale last weekend. These stories are each beautiful and profound. Most importantly, they are deeply tied to the journey and the happiness of the owner. I will share many of them with you here over the next few weeks.

Today I have a challenge for you: think about what your cartographic stories are. Answer the above questions for yourself and keep those places in mind today. Comment with your answers if you want.