Posted by: jeannineatkins | December 9, 2015

Boston Treasures

I just spent two days in the city, visiting my daughter, going to a meeting, seeing the Museum of Fine Arts decked out for the holidays, and getting to a show at the Boston Public Library. I love how the BPL Map Center offers children books and globes as introductions to ways to figure out where they are. The Map Center offers classroom programs that include using historical maps and GIS software so students can compare roadways and housing in the current city to that of the Revolutionary War.


Women in Cartography is their current show. There’s an overview of the role of more than ten thousand women working in the Geographical Informational Systems industry, but I particularly liked examples of work from the 1800s. I saw elaborate and useful charts made by Agnes Sinclair Holbrook, a resident of Hull-House in Chicago, to show immigrant population, income disparity, and mapped information for their mission of reform. I was touched by nineteenth century maps copied by women, when art, and copying it, was often part of a young lady’s education, often to elegant effect. Here is a (deteriorating) globe embroidered by an anonymous girl at a Quaker school in Pennsylvania in the early 1800’s. Girls learned geography and needlework at the same time.


The current exhibit at the MFA is designed to show how people of different classes were depicted in the Netherlands in the 1600s, with galleries featuring the well-to-do, often men in black with white collars that Rembrandt often painted, galleries with views of middle class merchants and other workers, and one room of depictions of those who were barely scraping by. Three tables were arranged for dinner, each under plexiglass. One gleamed with silver and Chinese porcelain on smooth damask, while the others were less shiny, with brass, pewter, stoneware, earthenware, or wood on rough linen. But mostly I gazed at the light in two Vermeers: one of an astronomer and another of a lady writing, with pearls near her paper.




  1. What a fascinating exhibit. I cannot believe that embroidered globe. Amazing!

    • The Map Center is a lovely part of a fantastic library. I know — that embroidered globe! Can you imagine girls bending over those? Thank you for writing.

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