Wayfinding Exhibit Celebrates White Mountain Cartography

The White Mountains region has one of the richest cartographic heritages of anywhere in the world, with vintage maps for pioneers, industrialists, and sightseers taking their place alongside interactive apps that modern hikers can consult mid-trail. Plymouth State University’s Museum of the White Mountains (MWM) exhibition, Wayfinding: Maps of the White Mountains, features maps from the far and recent past as well as new map tools for today’s hikers, tourists, scientists, weekend explorers, and enthusiasts.

Not only does the White Mountain region have a long history of maps and mapmakers, it also boasts one of the richest assortments of map designs of any mountainous region. Each map describes specific places and routes, and also tells a story of the knowledge, curiosity, purposes, pleasures, and design ideas of the people of its time.

Adam Apt

Wayfinding is co-curated by Adam Apt with support from David Govatski. Both serve on the MWM Advisory Council and are dedicated map collectors. In 2006, Apt was guest curator of an exhibition of historic maps of the White Mountains at the Harvard Library’s Map Collection, and Govatski previously co-curated the 2018 MWM exhibition, The People’s Forest: A Centennial Celebration of the White Mountain National Forest.

“I tend to think that everyone loves maps to some extent,” says Apt. Their widespread appeal may well be innate. Professor Adam Keul observes, “The quill pen sketch of the coastline from aboard a tall-ship and the binary coded fine-tuning of the satellite’s aperture are quite similar tasks despite their chronological disjuncture. Maps are, in fact, utterly human.”

Keul directs Plymouth State’s bachelor’s degree program in tourism management and policy. He served as the exhibition’s Summer Speaker Series project humanist and his insights are incorporated throughout the display.

While there is some overlap between the Harvard Map Collection and Plymouth State exhibitions, Wayfinding is more extensive and diverse. “This exhibition has an increased emphasis on recent mapping activity, including twenty- and twenty-first century developments such as the use of LiDAR, and it also includes manuscripts,” says Apt.

Apt singles out a map of the White Mountains signed by Benton MacKaye as just one of Wayfinding’s many notable items. “MacKaye founded the Appalachian Trail, and hiking with this map might have been what moved him into his conservation work and forestry career.”

Other artifact highlights include mapmakers’ tools, such as the measuring wheel of Lewis Cutter, a former Randolph (NH) Mountain Club president who created maps of the White Mountains from 1885 until his death in 1945, and the sled used by famed mountaineer and cartographer Bradford Washburn when mapping the Whites and Squam Lake. There’s also a 3D topographical map by Mark Thomas, a former New Hampshire public school science teacher who hiked with his students so they could experience landscapes directly before making topo maps themselves.

Historic maps are complemented by examples of contemporary cartography, including digital maps produced by the White Mountain Trail Collective and an eye-catching visual of the many nocturnal visitors to the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center.

Wayfinding: Maps of the White Mountains, features maps from the far and recent past as well as new map tools for today’s hikers, tourists, scientists, weekend explorers, and enthusiasts.

Wayfinding will open to the publicon Friday, June 4, representing an important step toward gradual resumption of the University’s public activities. “We were preparing this exhibit for summer 2020, and it’s a really nice thing to have it go up this summer,” says MWM Director Cynthia Cutting. “We’re especially glad to be able to do this for our members and donors who stayed with us and supported the museum and its programs during the pandemic.”

Wayfinding will be on view through September 17. The number of exhibition visitors will be limited through timed tickets. Online registration is encouraged, though walk-ins are welcome as long as spaces are available. Masks and social distancing will be required.

The exhibition is accompanied by a series of free online Zoom lectures and presentations, with time for Q&A. The Summer Speaker Series begins on Thursday, June 24, with The Emerging LiDAR Landscape: Clearcutting with Lasers, presented by Rick Chormann, retired state geologist and director of the New Hampshire Geological Survey, and will be followed on Tuesday, June 29, with Indigenous Mapping, Descriptive Geography & Place Names, presented by Paul W. Pouliot and Denise K. Pouliot, the sag8mo and sag8moskwa (head speakers) for the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook and Abenaki People. 

Registration is required for the virtual presentations, which will continue through August with all sessions beginning at 7 p.m. The final event on September 15 will take place in-person at the museum beginning at 5:30 p.m. The Wayfinding: Maps of the White Mountains Summer Speaker Series project was made possible with support from New Hampshire Humanities in partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities.

For more information about the exhibit and to reserve tickets, or to attend the virtual presentations, visit plymouth.edu/mwm.