Art and science of mapmaking is focus of new Cordata Gallery exhibit

We often forget that maps are a remarkable feat of technology and artistry. Cordata Gallery highlights this dichotomy with its newest exhibit, “Charting the World: A Journey Through Old and New Maps,” opening to the public on Saturday, March 23.

By showcasing rare historical maps, map-related artworks and contemporary technologies, the show illuminates how cartography influences society’s perception of the world — both throughout history and in the present day. 

The exhibit is made possible because of a private collection of rare and historical maps that otherwise would not be available to the public. Their inclusion elevates “Charting the World” from an exhibit to an incredible opportunity for public discussion and learning. 

Case in point: Did you know that in the 16th century, the world thought California was an island? The show’s anchoring image, “A New Map of the Terraqueous Globe” (1690) by Edward Wells, is an engraved double-hemisphere, double-page map that depicts California as an island and marks much of the world as “parts as yet undiscovered.” It leads the viewer into a sprawling exhibition of historic maps from across the globe, as well as past and present maps of Whatcom County. 

Beyond its focus on historic maps, “Charting the World” brings together three local artists — Hannah L. Rivers, Chuck Kitterman and David Syre — into conversation with the history of mapmaking. 

Chuck Kitterman has mapped out many familiar locations in and around Bellingham. His work will be exhibited in a gallery for the first time during “Charting the World.” (Image courtesy of Cordata Gallery)

Accomplished cartographer Chuck Kitterman is responsible for many of Bellingham’s maps. Kitterman utilizes state-of-the-art GPS technology as well as ground research, often traveling into the remote wilderness for his work. His deeply researched, accurate and stunning maps of the Salish Sea, Lummi Island, the Olympic Peninsula and the San Juan Islands will be exhibited on canvas in a gallery for the first time.

David Syre’s “Maps to Mars.” (Image courtesy of Cordata Gallery)

Artist and Cordata Gallery owner David Syre’s expansive, discerning work is deeply rooted in the landscapes he encounters. Syre often creates spontaneously, but also mixes topographic information into his work and even charts environments that cannot be charted — for example, outer space — in his paintings. In doing so, he plays into cartography’s mysterious, still-evolving qualities.

Hannah L. Rivers has a background in dance, and her multi-medium works are based on movement and embodiment. She abstracts topography through rich color, detailed patterns and aerial and satellite views of locations. In the exhibit, Rivers’ work, “Carrara Marble Quarry, Tuscany Italy, 2021,” sits next to her work, “Dadaab Refugee Camps, Dadaab Kenya, 2019,”  both of which seem familiar yet wholly unrecognizable — prompting audiences to contemplate how we recognize and engage with places. 

Kitterman, Syre and Rivers’ work takes on a different hue when surrounded by local maps, such as Cordata before and after development; as well as historical ones, including a map with handwritten notes from famous 18th-century cartographer Captain Cook.

Hannah L. Rivers’, “Cararra Marble Quarry.” (Image courtesy of Cordata Gallery)

Hannah L. Rivers’ “Dadaab Refugee Camps.” (Image courtesy of Cordata Gallery)

In an era that increasingly values a return to physical objects, “Charting the World” is an of-the-moment exhibit. It seamlessly mixes the new and old in surprising and necessary ways. Moreover, it will leave viewers with an appreciation for local artists’ exploration of physical place in their work, as well as the deep connection between human emotion, science and craftsmanship. 

“Charting the World” is on view at Cordata Gallery from March 23 through May 18. All the work by local artists will be for sale, while the historical maps are for viewing pleasure only. The community is invited to attend the opening reception from 4–6 p.m. on March 23. Info:

Editor’s note: David Syre is the sole owner of Cascadia Daily News. 

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