About the Watershed Map Project

Statement by Map creator Theresa Whitehill

The Watershed Poetry Mendocino Map project came to me out of a longtime love of cartography, perhaps because of its combination of words and graphics, as I am a poet trained in graphic arts. I have always mapped the land on which I lived, beginning as a child on the hill behind my home in Marin County, and continuing in Greece, where I’ve lived a couple of different times and in Mendocino County, where I’ve lived since 1984.

When Larry Sheehy first proposed the Watershed Poetry Mendocino event in 2008, I casually proposed that it would be nice to create a map of the county’s watersheds. Little did I know that this casual longing would result in over a year of diligent if sporadic labor combining science, graphics, and words.

My starting point was a map originally created by Chuck Henderson and David Hayes in 1976. Sherrie Smith-Ferri, director of the Grace Hudson Museum in Ukiah, had one much-faded copy of the map. She thought that Jerri-Jo Idarius might have been its original creator. I called Jerri who explained that while she had been the calligrapher, Chuck had been its core artist.

Chuck’s map was created pre-digital, using airbrush and successive sheets of artwork manually separated for the various colors and the calligraphy. A respectable edition had been printed via offset lithography; however, as is often the case with offset runs prior to digital and short-run printing, storage of the printed maps became a problem.  Eventually, much of the edition was thrown out. Chuck still had a small set of the maps and graciously sent one to me from the south Mendocino coast where he runs his map-making business, mapcomposer.com.

I was thrilled to examine it. It included not only elevation contours, but also that of  many local waterways. Jerri-Jo’s calligraphy listed many native placenames in addition to contemporary names established when the US Geological Survey conducted their surveys in the nineteenth century. This map has its genesis in three different centuries.

What was missing for my purposes were the outlines of the watershed regions themselves, and poetry. I began to construct an overlay map that would remedy both of those missing aspects.  Enter Rebecca Kress and Leif Farr of the Mendocino County Water Agency, who were of enormous help with the technical aspect, and various poets I happened to be in touch with as I worked on the project.

I wove poetry along the contours of the waterways. I colored the waterways so the viewer could see which were connected by similar headwaters (the Eel River watersheds are all in greens, for example).

I’ve ended up with a map that was utterly what I wasn’t expecting, which is great. I wanted it to be translucent, so that the older map could be seen through it. I achieved this by printing it out on a color laser printer on sheets of acetate. I had a size limitation–lettersize, so I decided to make that an aspect of the project. I investigated various ways to “bind” the project and came up with photo clips. When I needed to hang it from something substantial, I realized I had a perfect piece of wood, probably an old Mendocino County railway sign with the county’s name stenciled on it.  It was warped, weather-worn, and, incredibly, the perfect width for the map.

When I first hung the assembled piece, I was disappointed that it wasn’t more “legible.” It tends to disappear when displayed away from a white wall. Then Linda Noel came by, took one look at it and said, “You’ve managed to make it look like water.” And so I made peace with the artistic process.

I gathered a group of women poets I have always admired, with a range of ages that correspond to the range of waterways in the county, from large, forceful rivers to small creeks and rivulets. I am fortunate to have found a passion for this unconventional project in poets Lisa Noel, Mary Norbert Korte, Rachael Smith-Ferri, Robin Rule, and Linda Noel. They have been rehearsing with me since August so that we can do a reading of the watersheds–a recital that will name every waterway in the county in a chant format.

This event will be psychic as much as literary.  It will be amusing and fascinating, at times subtly tragic and at times repetitive, perhaps even ordinary. I’m hoping that our audience can appreciate the immense vocabulary that water has in our lives.

The day after our recital, the map will move from Colored Horse Studios to Tierra: Art Garden Wine for a formal reception and a talk by mapmaker Chuck Henderson. This more public venue will allow the map to be perused at leisure by the public for a week or so.

After that, the map project has many potential directions, some of which will be decided by its audience, by this administration,  and ultimately by this planet.

Theresa Whitehill

Theresa Whitehill
Poetry, Letterpress Broadsides, Design

Web Log, Investigative Poetics

C O L O R E D   H O R S E   S T U D I O S
780 Waugh Lane    Ukiah, California 95482   USA
Phone & Fax: 707 462-4557          theresa@coloredhorse.com


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