New Today! The Mighty Mississippi's Mesmerizing Meanderings August 26 2014

It’s not every day that a map lets you travel back in time and imagine the future, but today’s elegant new Vintage Editions do just that, as they vividly illustrate the paths of the Mississippi from prehistory to the 20th century in a unique series of whirly loop-de-loops.

Plate 22, Sheet 6, Ancient Courses Mississippi River Meander Belt a 20x200 Vintage Edition
10"x7" ($24) | 14"x10" ($60) | 20"x14" ($240) |  30"x21" ($600)  |  40"x28" ($1800) 

Plate 22, Sheet 7, Ancient Courses Mississippi River Meander Belt a 20x200 Vintage Edition
10"x7" ($24) | 14"x10" ($60) | 20"x14" ($240) |  30"x21" ($600)  |  40"x28" ($1800) 

 

[The Mississippi River] transformed under the stars and in pitch blackness, in gray mist and by the light of a multitude of moons ... [it] had a new story to tell every day.

        —Andrew Beahrs,Twain's Feast

Plate 22, Sheet 6, Ancient Courses Mississippi River Meander Belt and Plate 22, Sheet 7, Ancient Courses Mississippi River Meander Belt might not look like any recognizable river we know of—with "swooshes" that look like ribbons, human anatomy, smoke plumes, or  fantastical trails straight out of The Lord of the Rings. These maps are far from fantasy: each "swoosh" represents a layer of the river channel, all laid atop each other. Different colors, different time periods. Though they may be handmade, they’re definitely data-visualizations (and one of the first), just without the hi-tech fanciness and pixel pizzazz. This combo of old-timey charm mixed with a new-tech aesthetic have captivated the data-inclined on the web for years. 

But there's something timeless about these maps as well. The Mississippi River is—and has always been—a beast, changing its course with no input from wee humans, despite our best efforts to tame it. It has a new story to tell every day. But at the very least, we have the tools to track those changes—and hopefully find a key to plotting the river’s future. What will the river look like in 100, 200, 300 years? We’ve got these highly unusual—though incredibly beautiful—maps as a guide to letting our minds wander and wonder. 

Made by cartographer Harold Fisk for the Army Corps of Engineers in 1944, his maps drew on more than geographic data—Fisk also found the river's heart in this jumble of loops and purls. The river finds its personality reflected in this explosive, autumn-colored palette, its constantly churning rhythm shaping the soil, digging out a constantly changing place so distinctively its own. From prehistory to the 20th century, Plate 22, Sheet 6, Ancient Courses Mississippi River Meander Belt and Plate 22, Sheet 7, Ancient Courses Mississippi River Meander Belt are maps that were made for the ages.

With art for everyone,
Jen Bekman + Team 20x200