In today’s world of Google Maps and GPS, we rarely look at actual, physical maps like we once did. When you think about the beauty of maps and all the work that goes into them, this is kind of a shame. That’s not to say that real-time, digital maps are somehow unimpressive, but the handicraft of maps and globes might seem like a thing of the past.
However, it’s not, especially not for the bustling workshop of Bellerby & Co. Globemakers, of Stoke Newington, London. Inside this airy, naturally lit studio, a team of dedicated craftspeople works to create beautiful, accurate globes that are equal parts works of art and scientific instruments. We had the pleasure of chatting with them, and learned all about what goes into making a globe the right way.
The idea to make globes started with Bellerby founder Peter Bellerby, who wanted to get his father a globe for his 80th birthday.
To his dismay, he couldn’t find any that were both beautiful and durable, so he decided to simply make his own. Though it was unbeknownst to him at the time, this was the founding of Bellerby & Co. He started by finding and licensing a map, but found it rife with errors (“Don’t get me started on the Aral Sea.”), and so the next step in globemaking became learning Photoshop to edit maps and make them accurate.
Soon enough, making globes had become a full-time occupation, although there was a lot of trial and error involved.
“It took a long time to make [a globe] that was perfectly balanced and approximately two years before I produced a globe that I could sell,” Bellerby says. The company also takes over the actual mapmaking, to ensure their globes are up-to-date. “We created our own cartography with current borders and hand-paint each globe, and each one is created by hand here in London. Each globe is one-of-a-kind and made-to-order. Customers can choose to dictate the color of the ocean and land, and to highlight cities they have been to, or want to go to.”
First, the globe itself is created. These spheres are created to be mathematically perfect.
And yes, before you smarties point out that the Earth is not a perfect sphere, don’t worry. It’s close enough that at this scale, a perfect sphere is accurate.
The actual surface is then plotted out on a computer, a process that can take up to several months to get everything accurate.
The paper is cut into strips called gores, which must then be applied with perfect precision to the sphere.
The goring process is a delicate one.
“This [process] took 18 months to perfect, and each new globe takes about six months to perfect,” Bellerby explains.
“In effect, we wet paper then stretch it, basically fighting the tendency of it to degrade, tear, or turn into papier mache.”
The process is so tricky that applying the last gore is Bellerby’s favorite part of the whole process.
“It is an immense feeling of pride and you can stand back and admire what has taken so long to complete,” he says. “One of the challenges in globe making is the fight with Pi — which means if you don’t constantly check and re-check, measure and re-measure, you will be unable to complete the process.”
After the goring is done, details and custom characteristics are added by hand, giving depth, texture, and personality to the globe.
So why globes and not, say, maps? Well, for one thing, a two-dimensional map isn’t really a perfect representation of our three-dimensional world.
“A map is an interpretation — an accurate but not precise reflection of a globe — while globes are a completely accurate representation of the world,” Bellerby says. “Maps are more useful to navigate from A to B, but globes provide the inspiration for the journey in the first place.”
There’s also more to it that draws Bellerby and his crew to globes.
“[Globes] are a constant reminder of where we are, and they allow you to geographically place the history of the planet. In addition, travel is always something I have always loved doing and great to have reminders of all the countries that I would like to (if I am lucky) visit.”
These handmade, one-of-a-kind globes are also pieces of carefully and skillfully made art in a mass-produced, throwaway world. They’re educational, but they’re also beautiful.
And they don’t just have to be of the Earth! (Although most of them are.) This one is a celestial globe, representing constellations and celestial bodies.
They also come in many sizes, from desktop-sized pieces to the 127-centimeter “Churchill” model.