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Originally published Monday, November 30, 2009 at 12:03 AM

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Lit Life

Author Katherine Harmon explores a world of maps

An interview with Seattle author Katherine Harmon, who delves into the human fascination with maps and mapmaking in her new book "The Map as Art." Harmon appears at University Book Store on Dec. 1.

Seattle Times book editor

Author appearance

Katherine Harmon

The author of "The Map as Art" will discuss her book at 7 p.m. Tuesday at University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., Seattle; free (206-634-3400 or She'll also appear at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 16 at the Ballard Public Library, 5614 22nd Ave. N.W., Seattle; free; co-sponsored by Ballard's Secret Garden Bookshop (206-789-5006 or

Lit life |

Katherine Harmon is a book packager. She doesn't wrap books in pretty packages, she creates books by bringing together design, text, visual art and illustration.

Magnolia resident Harmon, founder of the late Northwest Bookfest, has been involved with books for much of her professional life. Her latest effort, "The Map as Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography," with essays by Gayle Clemans (Princeton Architectural Press, $45), combines her background in books with her love of art and maps.

Most people think of maps as tools for getting from here to there. Artists use them as a medium for expressing their observations, passions and anxieties about the contemporary world.

Harmon ("Kitty" to her friends) discovered this when she produced her first map book, 2004's "You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination." "You Are Here" showcased all kinds of maps, from fantastical historical maps to contemporary cultural artifacts, such as the"All Roads Lead to the Doghouse" map from Seattle's long-gone Doghouse restaurant. After reading "You Are Here," many artists wrote her, saying "I'd love for you to look at my work,' " Harmon says.

"The Map as Art" includes 360 maps created by artists from every conceivable medium, from traditional painting to imaginatively altered globes to twigs, butterfly wings and spider webs.

Kim Baranowski's map of alien-abduction sites is superimposed on an old-fashioned pull-down classroom map of the U.S.A. It's part of the artist's "Mappa Mundi" series, which presents "information that would give schoolchildren nightmares; areas of the world not yet hit by asteroids, potential U.S. nuclear targets ... or "show-and-tell for the paranoid," Harmon writes.

Brazilian artist Vik Muniz created a world map using junk (computer monitors, old filing cabinets) from garbage dumps, assembled with the help of youngsters from the shantytowns of Rio de Janeiro.

Many artists wrestled with the role of maps as tools for warfare and colonial expansion. Jane Ingram Allen created a map of Kinmen, a Taiwanese island famous for "having received more bombs per hour than any place in the world (over forty-four days in 1958, China bombarded the island with 480,000 shells, and continued to drop explosives on Kinmen for the next twenty years.)"

Allen's delicate paper maps in the shape of the island combine paint, gel, strings, leaves, photos and other found materials from today's island, which, unbelievably, is recovering from the onslaught.

Harmon's favorite suite of maps is from the Bambanani women's group, a South African group of HIV-positive women who created body maps to track their battle with the HIV virus. "Today I feel good I am happy. I am free ... I've disappointed the devil," wrote Nondumiso Hlwele on her map.

Not every artist has such a life-and-death stake in their work, but it's clear to Harmon that mapmaking attracts all kinds of people, for all kinds of reasons. "I've given a lot of thought to why people respond to maps," Harmon says. "It perhaps comes down to us locating ourselves in an inconceivably vast universe on one hand, and in our own complicated lives as well."

Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or Mary Ann Gwinn appears on Classical KING-FM's Arts Channel at

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