When I bought my house in Maine, on Mount Desert Island, about 10 years ago, I knew very little about the history, geography, and topography of the beautiful island where I was planning to spend so many vacations. More than halfway up the coast of Maine, Mount Desert is best known for its largest town, Bar Harbor, and for Acadia National Park and its highest peak, Cadillac Mountain. I had spent a few weekends visiting the island over the years, hiking the superb trails of Acadia, climbing the rocky peaks, and dreaming of owning just a little bit of that woodland seaside paradise.
Once I found Skylands, the former home of car designer and tycoon Edsel Ford, I began to immerse myself in the history of the region, reading the many books on the area -- nonfiction and fiction -- that I discovered at island booksellers, and studying many maps on display in antiques shops and hiking shops. I learned a tremendous amount and became fascinated with the many beautiful maps I discovered. They were so varied -- some in color, some black-and-white, some illustrated, some antique (dating as far back as the eighteenth century).
I purchased a few unframed examples and, while searching for a local framer, followed a recommendation and came upon a most amazing place, Ahlblad's Frame Shop, on a tiny lane in Bar Harbor. Owned by Raymond Strout, a gregarious and talkative man, the place seemed to be a disorganized, chaotic hodgepodge of framing samples and tools. Mat-cutting tables were piled high with ephemera, and walls were hung with rarities relating to local history and myriad prints and paintings. At first I was nonplussed and wondered whether anything I left behind would get lost in the mire. Raymond assured me it would not, that he never misplaced or forgot anything, and that I would get my framed maps back "in due time." I liked Raymond immediately, primarily because he is so knowledgeable and forthcoming, but also because he is an eccentric, a collector himself, and locally respected. He encouraged me to become even more curious and to search for information. Raymond started framing, and I continued collecting.
The Skylands house is divided into three distinct zones: the family living quarters; the kitchen and pantries, and quarters for the household staff; and the laundry rooms. In the twenties, thirties, and forties, the family never ventured into the back kitchen area -- the butler served, and the housekeepers and ladies' maids waited on family and guests. All that had to change, for now there are no ladies' maids or servants and no butler (although wouldn't that be nice?). The servants' dining room was transformed into the prehiking room, with a large table with maps and guidebooks. Two benches provide seating for pulling on and taking off boots and hiking shoes. The staff sitting room was made into a communications/control room, which has desks, computers, files and faxes, and printers and phones for the housekeepers, property manager, and visitors. The back is now the liveliest part of the house, and more people enter through the back door than the front.
The prehiking room was the logical choice for a map room. I papered the walls with a faux-bois wallpaper on which the cherry-veneer frames look wonderful. When matting is necessary, it is acid-free and uniform in color, and all the maps are set under framing glass to protect them from the vagaries of weather -- Skylands is not air-conditioned, but it is kept livable year-round. When we ran out of space, the communications office was hung with some of the largest maps, and after those walls were covered, we started down the long hall where the built-in 1920s refrigeration is still functioning. No direct sunlight hits any of the maps, and yet there's lots of natural light during the day to allow easy gazing at the wonders of a large island (third largest on the East Coast) with very unusual and defining geology and topography.
My "bibliography" of maps is almost complete. On his Sunday morning breakfast visits, Raymond fills me in on missing specimens, auctions, and recent island happenings. More often than not, he'll show me something interesting, and then promptly tell me the item is not for sale. But he is always on the lookout. What is so unusual about Raymond is his impeccable memory. I now have 59 maps, and, even without a written inventory, he knows which ones I have and which I still need.
Hanging them is fun. Finding a spot for a new addition is challenging, but each time I take up a drill and a screwdriver, I see something new and learn something I did not know. The only rule I follow when hanging so many various sizes of maps is to keep the bottom edges of the frames level throughout the spaces.
I am still looking for a few more maps, but I am thrilled to have learned a tremendous amount about my beloved Mount Desert Island -- where the railroads were and are no longer, when roads were built, when trails were blazed through Acadia, and how man's ability to map has evolved over the past 400 years or so.
And now that I have collected so much about one location I love, I've started another collection, this one of Bedford-Katonah-area maps, the location of my farm in Westchester County, New York. I have already chosen gold-cornered black frames and found three lovely early atlas maps.
Old and worn road maps and ocean charts can be salvaged and used for wrapping gifts, above, or lining trays, above right. Color photocopies are an inexpensive method of making similar wrapping paper from your favorite specimens.
Nautical charts of your region can be purchased inexpensively from any local boating-supply store (or nearly any store that sells maps); this one shows the area surrounding Seal Harbor. Many nautical charts have a waterproof coating; these are the most durable and will stay pristine even if drinks are spilled on them. Maps of hiking or nature trails or color copies of vintage maps are also charming for this project.
1. Remove the glass panel from the tray, and place it over the desired area on the map. (If you own a tray without a glass panel, you can have one cut to fit. Ask for a 3/8-inch-thick piece of glass or Plexiglas.)
2. Lightly trace around the glass with a pencil.
3. Use a craft knife to carefully cut the map along the traced lines.
4. Erase any remaining pencil marks. Lay the map inside the tray, and replace the glass.