Cartographers in the Field

Hal Shelton, “Cartographers in the Field,” 1940. Oil painting, 4 × 6 feet. USGS Library, Menlo Park, California. Photo by Terry Carr, USGS. Public domain.

Cartographers in the Field: “This Depression-era oil painting was created by USGS field man Hal Shelton in 1940. The painting depicts mapping techniques used in the early days of cartography, including an alidade and stadia rod for determining distances and elevations and a plane-table for sketching contour lines. A USGS benchmark is visible near the top. The straight white lines represent survey transects. Note the ‘US’ marking on the canteen: many of the USGS field supplies were obtained from Army surplus.” [Osher Map Library]

James Niehues Passes the Torch

niehues-sugarloaf
James Niehues, Sugarloaf, Maine, 2000.

The Aspen Daily News has a profile of map artist James Niehues, who’s painted hundreds of different aerial views of ski resorts and recreational areas since the late 1980s. (If you’ve seen a poster of your local ski resort, odds are Niehues was the one who painted it. He sells prints of them, too.)  The article names Niehues as heir to an artistic tradition of alpine cartographic art whose practitioners included Hal Shelton and Bill Brown.

Without knowing it, Niehues had become heir to an American artistic dynasty. Shelton was trained as [a] U.S. Geological Survey cartographer and produced a large number of famous trail maps in the 1960s and 1970s. In the ’70s, Shelton passed the torch to Brown, and by 1988, Brown was ready to pass the torch off to someone else.

In the early 2000s, though, it seemed that the storied line of American mountain illustrators would end with Niehues. His maps, many of which had faithfully represented ski trails for decades, began to be replaced by digitally rendered pieces whose production values placed speed above quality.

But there’s a twist: one of the digital illustrators, Rad Smith, ended looking to Niehues for inspiration and mentorship. Demand for painted maps turns out to be more resilient; Niehues, who I believe is in his late sixties and has described himself as semi-retired, may have someone to pass the torch to after all. It’s a fascinating read. [via]

Previously: James Niehues’s Ski Resort Maps; James Niehues Profile.