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Image: Anton Thomas drawing on his map of North America

Beyond Borders, What Connects Us? This Hand-Drawn Map of North America Shows Us

Maps are just maps… right? Just pictures of the world that show oceans and land; countries and states. That’s what you’d think, but as it turns out, maps can show us a whole lot more than that. What if a map didn’t just show us borders and countries, but things that made our homes, our states, the places we love so unique and special?

New Zealand born cartographer Anton Thomas is rethinking what a map can be with his hand-drawn map-sterpieces. His maps take the landforms we recognize and zoom in, in stunning detail, to highlight the cultural treasures, unique creatures, natural wonders, and cityscapes that make these places “home”. The result is a refreshing look at our world that you just can’t help but explore–and maybe even feel a little proud of when you see a place close to your heart.

Image: Anton Thomas drawing on his map of North America
Courtesy of Anton Thomas

North America: Portrait of a Continent: 5 Years to Draw 1 Map

Image: Anton Thomas's hand drawn map of North America
Courtesy of Anton Thomas

In 2014, Anton embarked on a map of North America unlike any other out there. On a stunning 4×5 foot canvas, he started mapping out the continent in minute detail. His work depicts the oceans and mountains we recognize, but there’s a whole lot more there. From what appears to be the Mayflower off the coast of Massachusetts, to a small frog in Ohio representing their famous frog season, to a funny alien near Roswell, NM, to the pictographs drawn by cavemen in northern Minnesota, to a sweet pair of Monarch butterflies where their migrations begin in Canada and end in Mexico, this map isn’t just about borders, but also the local wonders the connect us. 

“Drawing real places comes with a responsibility you must take seriously. These aren’t just abstract pretty pictures, nor do you want them to be cartoony. You’re making art out of people’s homes! Places are complicated, and place is integral to who we are.”

– Anton Thomas, via his website

Anton worked on his North America map – one single map – for five years. Using a projector to draw coastlines and borders, it took 3 years for Anton to complete just the the land portion of this massive map. 1 By the time he had completed it, the places where he started weren’t looking the way he wanted, especially compared to the places where he ended. Years of honing his skills had made a big difference! The next year was filled with scratching off the west coast of the US and redrawing it in the style he had developed. (With the colored pencils and fine line pens he was using, erasing just wasn’t possible.)

The end result is an unbelievably detailed depiction of North America – from plants to animals to urban legends to natural wonders to the skylines of famous cities. 

To show off his amazing creation, here’s Anton himself to tell us more about this five-year undertaking, in a great look from one of our favorite creators, Atlas Obscura.

Via: Atlas Obscura 2

There’s something really special about zooming in on the details of the map to where you live or places you’ve visited, so to check out the North America map in detail or browse the other maps Anton has drawn, check out his website or watch this phenomenal video for a virtual tour all the way down the Mississippi River, where Anton explains every drawing along the way. You can also purchase a copy of the North America map or any other of his maps here

And for more incredible content that explores the wonders in our world, take a jaunt over to the Atlas Obscura YouTube channel

“I like to show people that the world is fascinating and you should be excited by even what’s in your backyard. Because it’s just that… it’s a gift to be here.”

– Anton Thomas

Following Anton’s map of North America came maps of South Asia & Australasia, a Science Tour of the USA, and his Wild World map (still in progress) – a map of nature that will cover the entire world worth of incredible creatures, both land and sea. 

Pride in Place

When you really zoom in and look at the granular details of his map, it becomes clear: there are things that identify where we come from far beyond the borders we happen to find ourselves within. Take the monarch butterfly migrations for example: these festivals across countries are dedicated to celebrating the pride we have in our places that have nothing to do with borders or nationalities. For me and many of the Goodness Exchange team in Northern Vermont, we come together over the Vermont Maple Festival, a good creemee, and the lake monster, Champ, who lives in our beloved Lake Champlain. Or, take how our founder, Dr. Lynda, likes to brag that her hometown of Lincoln, Illinois is the only “Lincoln” named by Lincoln himself! 

Image: A section of Anton's map of North America, zoomed in on the southwest coast of the Untied States
A closer look at a section of Anton’s incredibly detailed map, showing parts of California, Nevada, Arizona, and Mexico.
Courtesy of Anton Thomas

Or, outside of Vermont, there are endless things that bring communities together, like the Castells in Catalonia, Spain, the rice paddy murals of a Japanese Village, the car and road-less village in the Netherlands, the mullet festival in Australia… should I go on?

There are so many things we have in common with the people who surround us other than just the town name that goes on our mailing address or our political ideology. 

What are those things for you? What aspects of your home unite you and the people in your area past the simple fact of being from a certain state or country? What are you excited to share about the place–or places–you’ve called home? When we take pride in place, be it for the feats of nature, geography, historical events, animals, or traditions of our communities, those communities flourish. (Seriously, it’s science!) There is so much to love right where you are. And if you want to find something to be excited about, all you have to do is look in your own backyard. 

“The real world is better than any fantasy world that has ever been conjured.”

– Anton Thomas

For a few more examples of things that unite communities beyond borders, check out these articles next. And take a look, you might just find them represented on Anton’s map! 

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Take a moment to stop and think: what unites your community? I’d bet when you think about it, you’ll have some pride in your place, too. 

Ellen

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Notes:

  1. “Biography of Anton Thomas and His North America Map.” Maps by Anton Thomas, 2012, www.antonthomasart.com/about.html. Accessed 14 Sept. 2022.
  2. Atlas Obscura. “How a Cartographer Drew North America, Freehand | Show and Tell | Atlas Obscura.” YouTube, 17 June 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ff6qtRaSkEQ. Accessed 14 Sept. 2022.
Published: September 19, 2022

Image: Ellen Allerton

Ellen Allerton

Chief Operating Officer

After graduating from St. Lawrence University in 2020 and returning home to Vermont, Ellen found that helping make the world a better place with the Goodness Exchange team was just where she wanted to be. You can usually find her watching television while getting crafty, on the ice as a figure skating coach for 10-14 year old's, or in her inflatable kayak named Heidi. She's quite the film nerd and quite the cook, and likes it best when those two things - movies and food - coincide.

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