Delights of mapmaking undiminished


Charting a course through the world of mapmaking has been a joy for Jan Kelly, of Wanaka.
When she discusses maps her eyes come alive with excitement, and recently she shared her interest with others as part of the Festival of Colour’s People Library.
The Wanaka cartographer began her adventure in maps while completing a geography degree at the University of Otago.
At the time her teacher, Prof Ray Hargreaves, made all geography students complete two years of cartography — ‘‘because he felt it was really important’’.
In the early ’70s she took a job at the AA, which taught her how to produce a commercial map when it was still a completely manual process.
‘‘You had a blank piece of tracing paper and a pen — that’s how we started.’’
The AA maps were ‘‘all handmade, all hand-lettered’’.
Coloured maps were hand­painted with ‘‘primary red, primary green’’.
Later, lettering was produced on ‘‘a very thin piece of plastic foil’’. However, these would still need to be carefully cut out and laid on the map, using wax to make them adhere.
‘‘You’d have these tiny strips of names all over your map.’’
A separate map would have to be done for every printing colour. ‘‘You’d have to do a separate drawing — huge, A1 sized.’’ It was ‘‘so far away’’ from using computers to create maps, when ‘‘you just press a button and it goes to the printer’’.
Mrs Kelly worked at a unique time in mapmaking, experiencing the crossover from a manual process to using computer software, using a stylus pen to draw.
‘‘We had to learn computing from scratch.’’
Her skills were shared with others during 22 years as an academic cartographer at the University of Auckland, before she retired with her husband to Wanaka.
When Henry VIII of England commissioned topographic maps, it was for defensive purposes.
‘‘What he wanted to know was ‘how do you get there, what can you see from here’.’’
Key details were all about how an army could travel — ‘‘is the bridge wide enough for cannon?’’.
Modern maps still had this focus, showing bridge widths, for example.
‘‘It is always the first thing on a map — ‘how do you get there’.’’
Maps showed ‘‘your sphere of influence’’.
Although she is retired, Mrs Kelly’s interest still has not diminished.
‘‘It’s a great subject . . .I haven’t yet reached a point where I think I know it.’’