Historical Map Exhibit at Orcas Island Historical Museum

by Antoinette Botsford with Minor Lile

Special sounder

How to get to the island of Orcas? How did the early explorers find their way before they even knew what was there? The Orcas Island Historical Society‘s new exhibit “Mapping Orcas: The Way Home” features an extraordinary collection of maps, many of which have been assembled, restored and reproduced by Orcas Island photographer Peter C. Fisher. The museum also features exquisite original hand-drawn maps by the late Jean Putnam.

The maps include JJGilbert’s Township Section Map (1888-1895), a variety of geological and navigational maps, and a number of maps specially created for the “edification” of tourists and the entertainment of locals. Also on display is a reproduction of a very old map, edited by three explorers in the 18th century, which certainly verifies Juan de Fuca’s 16th century description of the islands he saw during his trip to the northwestern part of the largely unknown continent. Two mid-19th century maps by John Wilkes and his expedition show great advances in the inaccuracy of surveying and navigation methods.

Historical surveying and navigation tools on loan from islanders provide support for maps and help the viewer understand how we found our way before Google Earth and GPS were everyday realities in the 21st century.

Fisher’s beautifully restored maps are available for purchase as reproductions, including sections of Gilbert’s extraordinary map, which says a lot about how the land was cultivated and used in the days of the farm . Part of the profits will be donated to the museum.

A separate booth in the museum is dedicated to the late Jean Putnam’s unique hand-drawn watercolor and ink maps of the Orcas and the Great San Juan Archipelago / Channel Islands which were created for individual clients. .

The Museum’s new Executive Director, Nancy Stillger, notes that the exhibit “will be of interest to a wide variety of people of all ages.” Stillger looks forward to the ongoing collaborative programs that will be offered during the fall and winter months, including lectures by cartographers, storytellers and historians.

“They will all add depth and dimension to the exhibit, further encouraging the community and visitors to engage with the museum,” she said.

The exhibition officially opens on September 4, the same day as the museum’s WOWZA raffle draw for the electric car. Further announcements will be made as the day approaches and more is known about the danger of the Delta variant on Orcas Island.

The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It’s that cluster of log cabins on North Beach Road, just off Village Green. Admission is by donation.


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Patrick F. Williams