Prominent artist Jo Mora was famous for his maps, and for good reason. He reinvigorated a century-old tradition of designing maps with the specific intention of prominent display, and then proceeded to fill these maps with his own personal cocktail of humor, knowledge, and skill. This wonderful map of Carmel-by-the Sea is one the very best examples of Mora’s visionary and whimsical style and stands as one of the most popular and important maps in his oeuvre. Part of the reason for this can be attributed to the fact that in this case Jo Mora was drawing a map of his own hometown area, thus affording him an intimate local knowledge of the geography, people, and places.
The map is a color lithograph on paper measuring 24.5 x 18.5 inches (62 x 47 cm). It essentially depicts an aerial view of Carmel-by-the-Sea, a small seaside town just south of the Bay of Monterey in California. Mora’s idea for the map immediately dominates visually, as he decides not to orient it towards the cardinal directions, but rather puts east at the top of the map. This changes the entire compositional dynamic of the map: with the water now at the bottom, Mora creates the space he needs to fill his map with a tremendous amount of local history; all humorously relayed through his captioned illustrations.
At upper left, we find the planned town of Carmel as it was in the early 1940s. It has since grown considerably. The planned layout of the main town is apparent when compared to the more organic street grid of Carmel Point or the rural setting of Pebble Beach, where Mora lived. Along the beaches of Carmel Bay people are enjoying themselves, much like they do today. While in the more northern Stillwater Cove, boating seems to be the activity of the day. Important landmarks are given beautifully illustrated vignettes, many of them appearing in the upper right corner of the map. These include the Mission of San Carlo Borromeo del Rio Carmelo from 1771 (today known as the Carmel Mission Basilica Museum) and the luscious Lobos Lodge, where high profile visitors could enjoy the warm salt air in what the map describes as ‘…a nice example of what good taste can do for a novel hostelry…’.
The whole thing is framed in one of the most exquisite borders imaginable. Running along the top are first thin strips of what appears to be traditionally embroidered flower-bands. Under these we find two elongated frames full of interesting characters representing the political history of California – and by extension Carmel Bay – prior to its incorporation into the United States.
On the left is Spain, identified by name and flag, with an attributed presence from 1513 and established colonial rule from 1771 to 1822. The depicted characters are an unholy mix of conquistadors, Jesuit missionaries, and indigenous “laborers.” On the right side, we find Mexico, portrayed in similar fashion with padres and soldiers, and noted as ruling California from 1822 to 1846 (the year the Mexican-American War broke out). When looking at the entirety of these two panels, it is clear that they offer a chronologic progression. Starting from the left, the first people shown are the indigenous people that the first Europeans came upon here in 1513. From there it progresses over explorers and conquistadors, to missionaries, colonial officers, and distinguished foreign visitors. All until 1834, when the Padres of the California Missions were expelled.
The right border is lined with another illustrated panel of characters, but these strike a somewhat more positive note. It starts out with a couple of local legends: Don Jose Hitchcock, the last of the Carmel Caballeros; and Jose Bernabel, ‘cute old village and woodland elf.‘ But below this, we find a second, larger panel of local heroes, which consists entirely of dogs. The animal theme is continued in the bottom border, which sports a mirrored line up of partridges, pigeons, and squirrels.
The entire is work is laced with countless little ironies, puns, jokes, and caricatures. It is Jo Mora at his very best.