In a light-filled studio at the edge of Abney Park, strips of gently curling paper hang from clotheslines above tables strewn with paintbrushes, inkpots, rolls of paper, and drawing compasses. On every other available space sit perfect spheres of varying sizes. Many are tended to by an artisan, who is painstakingly painting, gluing, or sealing the plaster of Paris surfaces to bring each bespoke globe to life.
This is the workspace of Bellerby & Co., one of just two companies in the world devoted to the art of custom, handcrafted globes. The company was established in 2008, when Peter Bellerby went looking for a beautiful globe for his father’s eightieth birthday but was frustrated by the lack of quality he found on the market. The Western globemaking tradition initially flourished during the European Renaissance and grew as a trade in the 18th century with the rise of globes as important technological and educational tools. But it was gradually replaced by factory-made versions and cheaper materials as the 20th century dawned. The call for handmade globes has continued to diminish over time, and by 2008 the process was obsolete. The art and its techniques were seemingly lost to the past along with its artisans.