If you’re looking for a painting by Pablo Picasso, you should visit an art museum. To see the work of “the Picasso of mapmaking,” as some geographers have called Dr. Erwin Raisz, just walk across campus to the Dana Mohler-Faria Science and Mathematics Center.
Bridgewater State University recently put on display three handmade maps by Raisz, a famous cartographer whose physiographic maps are as informative as they are beautiful.
“His style and the symbology he used were unique and the maps were phenomenally detailed,” said Dr. Robert Amey, an associate professor of geography.
Raisz visited Bridgewater State in 1954 to run a summer workshop for teachers. He made maps during his time on campus by drawing freehand mountain ranges, cities, water bodies, underlying geology and other features. He brought areas to life with vivid colors: his mountains appear to jump off the paper.
The BSU collection focuses on Egypt, Alaska, New York and Massachusetts. To Amey’s knowledge, only 19 of these classroom demonstration maps still exist, as many people likely threw them away after workshops. Harvard University has the other 16.
“They are beautiful maps and the fact they’ve survived since 1954 is pretty amazing,” Amey said. “They’re just a really good example of a combination of human activities and the physical geography and geology all in one map.”
The maps moved around in the Department of Geography before faculty gave them a permanent home on the ground floor of the science and math center by the elevators.
Modern mapmaking reflects technological advances, a development Amey suspects Raisz would have embraced.
“We don’t teach that technique any longer. There’s very little pen-and-ink cartography done these days,” he said. “It’s pretty much all done by computer.”
Fortunately for BSU students and visitors, they can still step back in time to an age when maps were truly works of art.
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