One of the most unappreciated forms of American visual art is map illustrations that are drawn to attract the attention of viewers to a tropical vacation or a version of the American dream. While these pieces of art are mostly used for promotions, the map illustrator strives to illicit a feeling of instant of recognition through the unique map art.
Map illustrations or pictorial maps thrived in the United States from the 1920’s to the 60’s. According to Stephen Hornsby, professor of geography at the University of Maine, this is a manifestation of the vibrancy of popular American culture.
Illustrated maps today are commissioned by companies and printed on posters and brochures as a form of advertising. Others are used for tourist purposes to attract visitors and businesses to a certain area. Since pictorial maps can spark an interest on far-away places and people, it has become rather appealing to children.
Some of the map illustrations are geographically accurate while others sacrifice geography for simplicity or to stress a point. One example is the 1947 Map of the United States as Californians see it where most of the country is drawn inside the Los Angeles city limits. A bold yellow arrow is used to connect New York City to California claiming “About 200 delightful easy miles.”
A giant sun and angelic weatherman watches over California which has co-opted different popular attractions from other places like the Niagara Falls, Grand Canyon and Mount Everest. This kind of playfulness is very common in map illustrations. They reflect American’s pride in their communities and cheerful optimism.
Map illustrations are not suitable and serious topics of study for a geography student but they have become a part of some map collections. While photography has taken over American advertising, map cartographers and artists still create pictorial maps today but it has not regained its mid century popularity.
The artistic and creative work of a map illustrator still makes a strong impression among viewers. Not only have map illustrations become part of collections, they are now being used to promote certain places in a fun and creative way. The map illustrations are drawn using vivid colors to highlight a building, people or landmarks.