All Over the Map

Sesqui-Shop exhibit shows how the City of Boise found its way


Watch a slideshow of some of the fascinating elements of Finding Your Way home by clicking here.

In the early 1860s, residents of the newly founded city of Boise navigated by landmarks, the occasional hand-drawn map or even by the sun and stars. Today's citizens are more inclined to turn to smartphones and let their GPS decide their best routes.

Celebrating the city's 150th anniversary--its sesquicentennial--that gradual shift is currently on display at Boise's Sesqui-Shop, in the Finding Your Way Home exhibition, a collection of historical and artistic maps from the 1863 founding of Boise up to the present day.

Rachel Reichert, Sesqui-Shop operations manager, told Boise Weekly that the project came together almost by fate.

"Two [grant-funded] projects happened to be map-based projects, she said. "While I was developing the monthly programming, I kind of knew I wanted to work with maps somehow, and it all just tied together."

As for her own need for maps, Rachel admitted, "I get lost all the time, and I've lived here for a while."

Perhaps the exhibition's most significant piece is the very first city plat, circa July 1863, on display in the entrance. Studded with 19th century photos of Boise's original buildings, the plat maps a mere four square blocks.

On an opposite wall, a hand-quilted map displays Boise's expansion over the years, supplemented by an original 1890 lithograph showing an illustrated aerial view of Boise at the time. Appearing quaint and peaceful, Boise's pre-automobile grid system was untouched by traffic lights or even stop signs.

In a far corner of the Sesqui-Shop exhibition hangs a bomb shelter map from the 1960s, with a few facsimile guides on how to construct your own home away from armageddon. The map is chilling, evoking Cold War memories.

In contrast to traditional maps, the exhibition also includes an array of maps created by Boise residents, showing a more human aesthetic by demonstrating what Boise means to the people who live here.

Two interactive installations allow visitors to add their own personal touch to the displays. Artist Byron Folwell includes colored markers for visitors to add significant places to a map.

"I'm hoping someone will add a marker indicating that they celebrated Boise's original centennial in 1963," said Byron. "I'm hoping people will mark their wedding, or the best family reunion they ever had. I'm hoping people will mark their ancestral home."

On still another wall, artist Seth Ogilvie's "Marking Boise" lets people identify their home on a map using pins and string, literally weaving a network of visitors.

"We just look on our phones, or we go on the Internet," said Ogilvie. "We don't realize that someone else is marking our journey for us. People even drive their cars off into a river because the GPS tells them to."

In less than four hours after the exhibition's June 8 debut (it runs until Saturday, June 29), Ogilvie's map had already gained nearly 250 points, several of which stretch far outside the city limits, off the map and across state lines. Fittingly, across from the display is the exhibit "Sister Cities," by Chad Erpelding, examining the internationality of maps and cities, using cut-up paper maps of United States cities to complement maps of their overseas sister cities, proving that Boise's population, 150 years after its founding, has come from all over the map.