Alternative Maps series:

Watershed Globe, 2019

Map 1Cyanotypes on paper, 20" x 27" 

Watershed Globecast plaster, 34" x 12" x 12"

Projections 1793-2019, Video, 2:42

The multilayered images in the Watershed Globe project explore two important variables of a map: place and time. The project presents a passage through maps of the same location on the Ohio River from 1793 to 2019. Through two-dimensional cyanotypes on paper, a sculptural globe, and an animation, I am able to explore changes in the river’s representation over time. The Ohio is the second-largest river in the United States, and has been a popular trading route and life source for thousands of years. This particular region, where the river bends north of Louisville, Kentucky, was the launching point for Lewis and Clark and many others on Westward expeditions, as well as a social boundary between the Northern and Southern United States and significant crossing for those escaping slavery via the Underground Railroad.


Maps in the Watershed Globe were created by those in power - from European settlers to Google Maps developers. Human interventions through locks, dams, and industry continue to alter the river’s path, and maps reflect not only physical changes, but also shifts in perceptions and priorities of each mapmaker. In the first early American maps, creeks and streams are individually mapped, then replaced by railroads, roads, and highways. In the process of re-drawing these maps, I selected elements (and related symbols) by which people traveled and interacted with the landscape. 

Popularly used in the 19th and 20th centuries as a method for scientific illustration and urban planning blueprints, the cyanotype printing process requires a lensless photographic exposure and creates a complex range of rich blues, which vary based on the amount of time they are exposed to light. The Watershed Globe is a 12” diameter cast plaster sphere created with centuries-old globemaking techniques. Like all globes, it is out of date almost as soon as it is produced, as water levels, roads, and highways are continually changing. I use digital software to translate map drawings to three dimensions, creating an interactive object that both elevates and distances the perspective of the viewer from the mapped subject, using the Ohio River as an equator and wrapping East and West together in a continuous loop.

© Susanna Crum, 2008-2020