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Creativity

Inside One of the World’s Only Workshops Where Globes Are Crafted by Hand

In the new book Almost Lost Arts: Traditional Crafts and the Artisans Keeping Them Alive, author Emily Freidenrich takes us into the studios of artists and artisans around the world who are safeguarding rare and exquisite creative pursuits. Published earlier this month by Chronicle Books, the book’s featured creatives range from neon sign-makers to masters of the Japanese art of kintsugi. In this excerpt, Freidenrich visits the workshop of Bellerby & Co., the London-based company run by Peter Bellerby where fine, artful globes are painstakingly crafted by hand.
Photo by Ana Santl.

Photo by Ana Santl.

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.
Photo by Ana Santl.

Photo by Ana Santl.

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Always curious about how things work, and with a tendency to tackle repairs on his own instead of going to professionals, Bellerby jumped at the challenge of mastering something that “no one else on the planet” could help him learn. The former violin maker spent the next two years piecing together the meticulous process of globemaking through extensive research, partnering with other fabricators and mapmakers—but mainly through trial and error. His goal was to produce just two perfect globes: one to keep, and one for his father. He never set out to turn his hobby into a business. But whether out of personal “stubbornness” or creative passion, the work soon “got out of hand.”
Photo be Allen Callender.

Photo be Allen Callender.

Photo by Tom Bunning.

Photo by Tom Bunning.

Today, Bellerby and his globemakers work closely with their team of artists and artisans in considerate harmony (it’s important, said Bellerby, that each artist be sympathetic to the next artist’s work, since mistakes made at one phase can create more work down the line to repair the error). Woodworkers craft the globe base out of wood or metal. Cartographers plan the incredibly accurate maps of land and sea, or sometimes celestial bodies. An illustrator and several painters bring in color and dimension and integrate personal touches for the clients. And Bellerby’s rarest find, a skilled engraver, hand-engraves the meridian—the metal band that encircles half or the entire globe—which is affixed to the globe on both poles and the base in the final stages.
Photo by Tom Bunning.

Photo by Tom Bunning.

“The key tools [in globemaking],” Bellerby said, “are hands, water, and glue. It is all traditional.” Bellerby & Co. globes certainly evoke an Old-World aesthetic, both through their materials and process and by drawing inspiration from historic styles. But innovation is a key part of keeping the art alive. It would have been taking tradition too far even for Bellerby, for example, to adhere to the 15th-century technique of etching the reverse image of a map into copper plates and then printing maps from those plates. Adobe Illustrator is used to plan maps today, but the cartographers can use it to reenact aspects of bespoke cartography. For example, they might mimic the irregularities of metal typesetting by adjusting the placement of individual letters for each word on the globe labels.
Bellerby Globemakers
Bellerby Globemakers
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With every globe comes unique requirements, said Bellerby. “I am always learning new things myself, and we all still have challenges to overcome each day.” That means that in the studio, no day is the same. Projects are varied, and the globes are all at different stages. While some are being molded, others are in drying or resting periods. In other areas of the studio, globes are in the goring phase—the application of soaked strips of paper map, called gores, to the globe’s surface. Other globes are coming to life through painting, and near-complete globes just need to be sealed. Bellerby’s artists and craftspeople understand the careful balance among all the pieces of the process, and they each plan their work to set up the next artist as well as possible. “As cheesy as it sounds,” said Bellerby, “they need to put their heart into everything they do.”
Photo by Tom Bunning.

Photo by Tom Bunning.

In addition to the impeccable quality of Bellerby & Co. globes, it is this thoughtful effort put into every client’s unique design that makes Bellerby confident their globes will last a century (or more). And, best of all, that their globes will become heirlooms for families to pass down for generations.
Emily Freidenrich
Excerpt from: Almost Lost Arts: Traditional Crafts and the Artisans Keeping Them Alive by Emily Freidenrich, published by Chronicle Books 2019.