George E. Matteson, Map Maker

Matteson’s own advertisement on the border of the map.

This post was written by Bilal Tajildeen.

One of the first rules of being a bookman that I learned from Dan is to keep an eye out for anything that may catch it– items laid in to a book, an oddly marbled fore-edge, or a certain aesthetic that seems ahead of its time. That’s why this George E. Matteson 1939 map of Scituate, Rhode Island is a wonderful example of a good find. According to an obituary found online, George Matteson, born April 22, 1902, died August 27, 1977, was a mapmaker, a historian, and a folklorist. While I’ve been able to find at least a dozen other

A full-length view of the map (photo taken in our rare book room), measuring approx. 41" by 47.5".
A full-length view of the map (photo taken in our rare book room), measuring approx. 41″ by 47.5″.

maps credited to him, it’s unclear whether or not all of his maps are imbued with such a powerfully creative essence as this one. While I was examining the map in order to take photographs for this post, before I knew it, I had a folder of 45 images, from which I had to select the handful I’ve posted here. If I let my eye rest– even for a second– I had to snap a photo. It is, truly, a pleasure trip for the eyes.

(Click “CONTINUE READING” for more details)

This company, Providence Blue Printing Co., Inc, was likely the company that printed Matteson’s map. If you look to the right & below the advertisement, you can see a rendition of what is possibly a family crest. There is also a notation for a “red house.”

Scituate’s very own Lt. Blake, driving in his police cruiser down U.S. route 6. Part of what makes Matteson’s map such a work of art is not only his detail in drawing, but his specificity. This is not just any lieutenant, this is Lieutenant Blake. Notice, also, the farmer with the pitchfork, you can even see the smoke coming out of his pipe!

In his process of surveying the town of Scituate, Matteson also went outside of the town lines. Here, we see two amazing details. The first is the town of Foster seal and emblem. But, more curious, is the designation of “where counterfeit money was made.” In between Ponaganset River and the Hemlock Brook, entrepreneurs in the 1930s must have found this locale to be adequate to their nefarious deeds!

This bottom border of the map has a lot happening, even when just looking at this frame. We see the 1939 copyright by Matteson, we see a cannon pointed toward Hope Valley, where I believe Matteson was born. Within Hope, we can see the school, the police station, as well as town hall and small, unlabeled buildings.

Here, we see the Beacon Hill Academy “years ago.” The fate of Beacon Hill Academy is still a slight mystery to me, but, following publicly available information on Scituate, we know that the building was used for education purposes in the 1930s. We also see the Chopmist Hill fire tower which, according to a report issued by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (3 October 2006), was first built in 1917 but “replaced in 1926 by a 65-foot tall steel fire tower. It was staffed by a fire observer, whose responsibilities included gathering and recording the daily fire weather data used to predict the possibility and intensity of forest fires, early detection of forest fires, and helping to coordinate the on-ground fire suppression efforts.”

Fro-Joy Ice Cream must have been a favorite spot of Matteson, as it is one of the local businesses advertised around the border. An archived copy of the Nashua Telegraph, dated 29 August 1929, and available on Google, gives insight into the health benefits of eating Fro-Joy ice cream: “Vitamins and mineral salts that make for robust bodies, well-knit bones, clear skins, bright, happy eyes… for Youth, itself, which makes the world go round!”

Matteson’s map legend. The presence of this legend really elevates the map itself. While it could be easily argued that this map exists as art, this legend allows us the space to see the map as practical. With a scale and symbols at hand, one could read around the embellishments and see the layout more clearly.

“Halt! Who goes there?” A valid question to ask, more so from our two farmers and their bovine friend. What I particularly enjoy about this frame is the detail Matteson puts into his figures. They are clearly seen but they are not overly elaborate. What we see is the essence of these people, who were likely real and likely worried about their cattle, but we are not bogged down the same way we are with more traditional art. The beauty is in the folk quality.


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