Geography can be found in the most unexpected of places. A historical example can be seen in 17th-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer’s works. Intricately rendered globes and maps beckon to the viewer from the painting’s shadowy interiors, illuminating how geography and the complexity of its visual representations can serve as wellsprings of artistic inspiration. But how has this artistic component of geography fared in the modern era of electronic maps and mass-produced globes? Bellerby & Co. represents one such effort to preserve the arts in geography. Based in North London, the company works to maintain both the art of globe-making and the demanding, mathematical accuracy and patience required by cartographic endeavors, creating high-quality, bespoke globes reminiscent of a bygone age.
Johannes Vermeer’s The Astronomer (1668) featuring a celestial globe by Jodocus Hondius. Bellerby & Co.’s founder, Peter, was inspired by beautifully made globes from the 16th and 17th century and wanted to bring a similar level of detail and care to his works.
Bellerby & Co. began with founder Peter Bellerby’s search for his father’s 80th birthday present. Unsatisfied with the available options, which ranged from expensive and fragile antiques to school-type globes with flat colors, Peter decided to take matters into his own hands and began to learn the craft of globe-making. “When I started doing it, I thought I would be able to do it relatively easily,” stated Peter.. However, even after spending a year and a half and a significant sum of money, he still had not reached a position where he was comfortable with the globes he was making.
Peter Bellerby in the studio. Photo by Julian Love, courtesy of Bellerby & Co.
Among the difficulties was the discrepancy between the geometry of the earth and shape of the molds, as errors were multiplied by a factor of pi, magnifying even the most minute of miscalculations. Even the procedure of applying gores–curved slivers of the map–upon the globe took 18-months to perfect. The only way to learn was by a grueling process of trial-and-error, but what motivated Peter was the fact that such beautiful globes were made in the past with materials vastly more difficult to work with. “In the 16th and 17th century, they were making beautifully stunning globes, and for some reason, that has stopped happening in the 20th century… so I figured I had to work it out” states Peter on his motivations behind pursuing this task, despite all of its challenges.
Hand painted gores. Photo by Cydney Cosette, courtesy of Bellerby & Co.
In addition to preserving the accuracy and craft of globe-making, Bellerby & Co. have introduced modern innovations to the craft. One such example is using materials which extend the longevity of their works, such as UV-resistant resin. Another example is their work inspired by two globes made by the U.S. Army Chief of Staff for Churchill and Roosevelt during World War II. Their innovation lies in replacing the rubber-bearings with steel-bearings, which are more resistant to deterioration and utilize the weight of globe, allowing it to spin 360 degrees. Bellerby & Co.’s globes have been commissioned by Martin Scorsese for his film, Hugo, and have even attracted the attention of the Louvre, who have asked them to reproduce a celestial globe based on original copperplates from the 17th century.
The 127 cm Churchill Globe and the Mini-Desk Globe. Photo courtesy of Bellerby & Co.
But why globes, in the era of Google Earth and dynamic, electronic maps driven by geospatial data? When addressed with this question, Peter appealed to the visceral, tactile nature of globes, an object you can pick up and grasp in your hands. Citing his own youth where he spent many hours perusing texts of geography, nature and science, he noted the sense of wonderment and perspective a globe brings to an individual, as he states “maybe it’s because we’re introduced to globes at such a young age and someone points out to us ‘you live here’… and you just want to explore as much of the rest of [the globe] as possible”. This timeless appeal of globes and its potential to instill the spirit of adventure into its viewers attests to the artistic potentialities of geography embodied in the works of Bellerby & Co.
Bellerby Globes. Shot by Tom Bunning for part of his ‘Crafted’ Series, Photo Courtesy of Bellerby & Co.
Written by Glenn Liu