Kalispell artist breathes new life into old maps



Artist Lisa Middleton finds her inspiration in maps.

The Kalispell, Montana artist is fascinated by the distant pasts they reveal. The stories they tell.

“They’re like visual history books,” she said. “Each map says so much.”

She’s turned that fascination into an art — finding, restoring and replicating old maps, then creating art on top of the prints.


Each of Middleton’s pieces begin with a search for a historic map — Middleton scouts them out in bookstores, libraries, eBay, and even the Library of Congress.

Middleton, who has lived in Kalispell for 10  years, is generally on the hunt for original maps from the 1500s to the 1900s that have a natural composition and aren’t too damaged, she said.

She’s especially attracted to ones with historical significance. Some represent a snapshot in time, like one map she’s worked with that depicts California as an island. Others have an element of whimsy in the ornate illustrations along the borders. The collection she’s showing in the Winona-area focuses in part on historical fur trade routes through the region.

She takes the maps that stand out and has them scanned as a black-and-white image, restoring elements that are hard to read. She then paints on top of the reproductions using watercolor and tea.

These days people generally use their phones or GPS to find their way around, she said, and the maps that are still produced today are largely utilitarian. So the antiquarian maps she works with more and more are works of art in and of themselves, she said, “loaded with human knowledge and understanding.”

The way Middleton sees it, adding color to the math breathes a new life back into the maps, creating an opportunity for them to become a centerpiece in the home, she said. There, they can incite learning, inspire great conversations and, perhaps, spark an interest and an early understanding of geography for kids.

“That’s something that makes the work feel really meaningful,” she said.

Lisa now makes her home in Montana, at the foot of Glacier National Park which she discovered at the age of 19 when she spent a summer as assistant manager of the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn Restaurant in the Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park. She moved to Montana about nine years ago where she now paints full time. 

“I fell in love with hiking,” she said. “And ran into a lot of bears.”

Middleton is doing more than making art, she’s helping to preserve history. 

“We’ll never have old maps like this again,” she said. "If I can breathE a little new life into them today, I'm happy."


(Click on photo to shop at montanaliving.com)

Middleton’s map paintings can also be seen on :

March 17-20 Great Western Living and Design Show at :the ExpoPark (fairgrounds)

Please visit her online Exhibit at www.greatriverarts.com . Her 2015-2016 schedule follows:

February 13 – 14 2016 Cathedral City Hot Air Balloon & Fine Art Show, CA
February 20 – 21, 2016 Art Walk in Indian Wells, CA
February 26, 27, 28 21st Annual Carefree Fine Art & Wine Festival, AZ
March 11-12 Made in Montana Marketplace, Helena MT (Saturday is open to the public.)
March 17-20 Great Western Living and Design Show, Great Falls MT
June 11 Artspire, LaCrosse WI

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