A physical place can be filled with such meaning. Just think of your hometown; do you have recollections of your favorite spot? Or maybe you couldn’t wait to get away and that feeling is still palpable. Returning to places that I have lived before, I have a sense memory of how to get around and I associate feelings and memories with specific locations. In a city as large as Manhattan, the sheer number of these feelings and remembrances must be infinite, many times the number of inhabitants.
As we head to Manhattan this week with our newest collection, this conversation feels especially interesting. Our own personal map of the city, marked with new clients and boutiques, will guide us as we write another chapter into the Alabama Chanin story.
In 2007, Becky Cooper became interested in locations and maps after studying Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and she was inspired by an internship with non-profit organization CultureNOW, where she worked to map Manhattan’s public art spaces. She told the New York Times, “I’m really bad at geography. But I think it helped me to see maps more as a biography.”
So, she began roaming the streets of Manhattan, walking the length of Broadway, distributing outline maps of the city and asking strangers to “map their Manhattan.” She printed each map by hand on a letterpress in the basement of her college dorm. Each map was accompanied by an addressed, stamped envelope. Becky expected a gruff New York population to ignore her or be suspicious of an approaching stranger and discard the maps. But before long, she began receiving dozens of letters, each containing a unique narrative. These New Yorkers were sending snippets of their life stories, tales of favorite days, celebrity sightings, lost gloves, childhoods; there were funny stories and secret confessions – maps as unique as New York itself.
The project became a book, Mapping Manhattan, filled with colorful illustrations and written memories, both powerful and ordinary. It includes 75 stories from everyday citizens, anonymous storytellers, and notable New Yorkers like Yoko Ono, Harvey Fierstein, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Each story feels like an intimate revelation. The book itself is a work of art. Some are colorful drawings and others are elaborate tales. Perhaps the simplest story: a map with an “X” and a line to the words “Met my wife.” Perfect, short, and revelatory.
Mapping New York is an ongoing project revolving around collaborative art specific to a geographic area. Becky Cooper has expanded her project to include Harvard Square and is working on “mapping” Portland, Maine. She hopes to expand to Paris and Berlin.
Mapping Manhattan: A Love (and Sometimes Hate) Story in Maps by 75 New Yorkers, by Becky Cooper, is published by Abrams Image, New York.
To make a wholesale appointment to view our newest collection, please contact Betsy at office(at)alabamachanin.com or call +256.760.1090 for more information.