Uncharted Territory: Framing An Antique Map & Nautical Chart Collection

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Nautical decor has become a staple for people looking to create on trend, beach-inspired spaces. But in a seaside town where a good portion of the population works on or around the water, nautical charts have long been part of the traditional decor in many homes- acting as both functional objects and decorative accents.

We recently had the pleasure of framing a local Ketchikan man’s collection of rare and antique maps and nautical charts. Framing the charts was a matter not just of style or decoration but also of conservation and preservation for these fragile pieces of Alaskan history.

Let's first start by defining the difference between a "chart" and a "map." Sometimes we hear them used interchangeably, (or more often the term "map" is used to describe both). A nautical chart represents bodies of water- think water depths, shoreline, tide predictions, obstructions to navigation (rocks, shipwrecks, etc.) and navigational aids.

On the other hand, the term “map” emphasizes landforms- think road maps or atlases. A map usually represents topographical information.

Map = Land

Chart = Water

Dr. Ketchum’s collection encompasses both charts and maps such as the 2 below- one is a map dated from 1940 that was in an Alaska Sportsmen magazine. The other is a chart dated from 1951.

He started his collection a few years ago after purchasing land on Gravina Island, an island that is a short boat ride away from Ketchikan.

When he started reading about his land it sparked an interest in him- he wanted to learn more not only about the history of his property but also of Ketchikan and Alaska in general. In addition to his collection of maps and charts, he has also compiled a variety of old photos, postcards, and other “odds and ends” related to Ketchikan’s history. We were thrilled to frame a set of original movie posters he came across from the 1954 thriller “Cry Vengeance” which was filmed here in Ketchikan- super cool!


Dr. Ketchum has amassed his collection from a variety of sources. Many of the maps and charts are given to him, while others have come from eBay or antiquarian map dealers. His favorite, a chart of Seal Cove on Gravina Island, was a gift from a friend. This chart is dated March 17, 1930.

When it came to framing these pieces, showing the date stamp was very important to us and to Dr. Ketchum. This proved to be somewhat of a challenge because the stamps are often right on the very edge of the paper, and in many cases, the edges were somewhat tattered. Instead of covering up the crinkled and torn edges with matting, we chose to show them as part of the character of the pieces.

Looking at the charts, the viewer gets a sense of their history.

Perhaps the edge of one is ripped from a mariner hastily unrolling it to navigate a dicey passage. Creases are evident in most of the pieces and are signs of a life well-lived and purpose well-served to the ocean goers who once possessed them. While most art collectors would cringe at creased or tattered works on paper, the evidence of use on these charts are part of their rich history.

While Dr. Ketchum’s collection is ever growing, the oldest we have framed so far is dated 1868. Let that sink in for a moment- that was over 150 years ago. This chart was from the first edition of Coast Pilots of Alaska, right after Alaska was purchased from Russia in 1867. There were, of course, no satellites or GPS- just good old-fashioned exploration of the still largely undocumented and uncharted land and sea.

“The shape of the islands are pretty far off. The map predates Ketchikan as a city, though certainly not as a native settlement. Dall's Head is wrongly placed, being at the southern end of Gravina Island, which is not labeled. The inaccuracies are part of the charm of old maps,” says Dr. Ketchum about this particular chart.

When it came to the framing style choices, Dr. Ketchum aimed for “a classic look that would not detract from the charts/maps” and that would also work with the knotty cedar paneling of his house. A simple black frame with gold pinstriping was used for each piece. The subtle striping mimics the outlines of the maps. Some were matted using a mat with a black core instead of the traditional white to add another outline. Others were left unmatted.

Each is elegant, simple and non-obtrusive to the subject matter.

In addition to the style of the framing, special considerations were taken into account in order to preserve the antique pieces. Each were mounted on a reversible heat activated foam board. This means that no adhesive was used on any piece and could be taken off if needed without causing further damage. UV protective glass or in some cases UV protective acrylic were used in order to prevent further light damage (to learn more about how UV rays can affect works on paper, check out our blog post about Sunlight and Your Artwork).

We feel lucky every day to help customers preserve their treasures whether pricey or priceless, and this project has been no exception. Not only was it a treat to handle the antique pieces and problem solve how to preserve the fragile papers, but maps and charts are also just really fun to look at! There were several times we found ourselves in the frame shop scanning the charts, pointing out those charming inaccuracies that Dr. Ketchum mentioned in the historic documents and imagining what it might have been like for the seafarers exploring the Inside Passage of Alaska. We loved checking out this colorful map from 1907 of the "Ketchikan Mining District."

We appreciate Dr. Ketchum for the lovely photos and info about all the pieces pictured. We can't wait to do more!

If you have a unique or sentimental collection and are interested in preserving it, protecting it, or just straight up showing it off, we’d love to work with you on that!

Pro tip: it doesn't even need to be flat/on paper. We've worked with countless customers to create beautiful shadowboxes to display their 3-D collections too. Chances are, you name it and we can frame it.

 

Artfully yours,

Maria at Scanlon's


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