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1. An Anciente Mappe of Fairyland: Newly discovered and set forth
Bernard Sleigh, 1918
“I believe in Faeries. It is very natural and not a bit foolish; for in these days we are quickly learning how little we know of any other world than our own. It is no more difficult for me to believe that a wild rose, or a daisy, has personality, consciousness of life- a spirit, in short, than that a human being has”
–Bernard Sleigh, Faery Calendar, 1920
Our recent acquisition of the large-format first edition of Bernard’s Sleigh’s “Anciente Mappe of Fairyland,” published in England in 1917-1918 at the end of the First World War, was the inspiration for our current exhibition of fantasy maps. An imaginative flight of fancy first sketched out for his young daughter and son one rainy afternoon, Sleigh’s three-sheet pictorial panorama is a masterpiece of the late-stages of the Arts and Crafts movement, and remains the piece he is best known for. Born in Birmingham, England, in 1872, Sleigh apprenticed as a wood-engraver when he turned 14, before attending the Birmingham School of Art. At the Birmingham School of Art, Sleigh’s teachers, including Arthur Gaskin, were members of the influential Birmingham Group, an association of artists devoted to the principles of the Arts and Crafts movement, and heavily influenced by William Morris, John Ruskin, and Edward Burne-Jones. Sleigh also painted murals, designed stained glass windows, and dabbled in metalwork throughout his career as an illustrator, a teacher, and craftsman. His lifelong interest in fairytales, myths, legends, and mysticism also manifested in his published stories, poems, and works of fiction.
The influences for Sleigh’s map are complex and multifaceted, ranging from his viewing of a production of J.M. Barrie’s play Peter Pan, to his familiarity and fondness for the work of Arthur MacDonald and William Morris and the Kelmscott Press. On the map you will find characters from Shakespeare mingling with characters from Mother Goose, The Brothers Grimm, Celtic fairy tales and Norse mythology (and so many more). When the map was first published in 1918, Sleigh published a 16-page companion pamphlet titled “A Guide to the Map of Fairyland” (which we have reproduced and made available on the table as you enter the gallery). In his guide, Sleigh explained to would-be visitors to fairyland that “there are landing places at various points, some safe, and others highly dangerous,” (with the best routes marked with a faint red line) and to bear in mind that “distances here are measured by thoughts–one thought in Fairland equals five hundred of our miles.” He also championed the benefits of a “magic ointment” to be rubbed over one’s eyes upon arrival, for without it, “it is difficult to choose between a good and an evil fairy” for a guide.
In his unpublished 1944 autobiography, “Memoirs of a Human Peter Pan,” Sleigh noted that his childlike wonder and reverence for fantasy worlds, which he referred to as “the Peter Pan in me,” fully reemerged in 1916, when he was in his 40s, “…chiefly I suppose as a mental refuge from the hideous militarism of the time.” Thus, Sleigh’s fascination with fairyland was partially an escape from the horrors of modern warfare and his lovingly rendered map of fairyland provided that same sense of escapism (and a return to a more innocent past) for the children and adults who encountered it. We hope it offers you a similar escape from the difficult times of our modern world.
2. Map outlining the third voyage by the Dutch, to the Northern regions … and America towards the east
Willem Barentsz, 1599
In the late-16th century, Dutch cartographer and navigator Willem Barentsz led three voyages to the Northern regions, in search of a northeast passage. Continually thwarted by ice, on the third voyage (1596-1597) the crew had to shelter on an exposed bluff, where they built a hut out of driftwood and lumber from their ice-encased ship. Continually under attack by polar bears, they survived on the arctic foxes they trapped and provisions from the ship. Stuck for nearly a year, the crew set off on the open boats the following June, and were, many weeks later, rescued in the Kola Peninsula (Barentsz having perished at sea prior to the rescue). Barentsz’s map of the Arctic regions includes: Greenland, Iceland, northern Scandinavia, northern Russia, and northern North America, as well as the routes of his third voyage from 1596-1597. This map of otherwise very real places is included in this exhibition both for its fantastical illustrations of monstrous looking sea creatures (most of which are whales), and the inclusion of the island of Frisland (placed near Iceland), a phantom island that appeared on maps of this region for nearly a century.
3. Angliae et Hiberniae Accvrata Descriptio, Veteribvs et Recentioribvs Nominibvs Illvstrata et ad D. Gvliel. Camdeni Britaniam Accomodata. Nominibus Antiquis vel praeponitur vel postponitur
Abraham Ortelius, 1609
Sixteenth-century Flemish map publishers like Ortelius routinely prettified the maps they sold in the general marketplace by adding fantastical creatures grounded in mythology and folklore (now fondly referred to as “map monsters”). Among other decorative elements, this map of England, Wales, and Ireland—with a genealogical tree of the kings of England since 1066—contains a mermaid/siren (looking at her beauty in a mirror) and the sea-god Neptune astride a great seahorse.