Diane Archer came to love maps while tromping around the wilderness as a teenager back in the days when you still needed printed, topographical guides to find your way around. “There’s just a beauty in maps, in the concentricity of the lines,” she says, and more importantly, in the places they can lead you to. Which explains why maps are such a recurring feature in her creations.
Archer’s art is informed largely by her urge to explore the idea of place – both as a physical location and as an emotional space. Her mixed-media pieces combine maps with drawings, quotes, and embedded objects – sand, rocks, leaves, bones – picked up during her outdoor ramblings. Her creations reflect not only her own attachment to certain places, but also her interest in science, philosophy, and the Deep Ecology movement. Archer’s body of work, which stretches several decades, acknowledges and celebrates our connections to the world around us and the world within us.
Archer selects the embedded objects that appear in her pieces from boxes and drawers of treasures she has collected over a lifetime. As with maps, Archer’s interest in found objects is in the stories they can tell us about place. Each feather, pine needle, clam shell, or seed she picks up “contains the energy of the place” where it was found, she says. What intrigues her about them is that they all have their own history. As she puts it, “I might have found them some place and picked them, but how did they get there?”
Archer often stains the maps with dyes she makes from native plants, and adds on a layer of other copied paper items such as recipes, tide tables, or Chinese fortunes, much like a palimpsest. Her formal training as a metalsmith has contributed to her interest in layering and in experimenting with various combinations of materials. (Archer also creates sterling silver and bronze jewelry along similar lines, incorporating photo-etched maps into the pieces.)
In some of her pieces, Archer maintains the place names that appear in the maps she incorporates – for example, locations along the Oregon coast, where Archer lives part of the year, in Travel Safe, or California’s San Gabriel Wilderness Area in Rest. The idea, she says, is to offer “a remembrance of a place and also a celebration of it.” In others like Portal and Timeless Conversation, place names may be carefully erased out or layered over with words or images or objects that guide us gently to a place within and ask us to reflect on the ecological and emotional footprints we leave behind in our own daily ramblings.
Follow Diane Archer’s page: facebook.com/dianearcherartist.
We are standing at a pivotal moment in history, one in which education and advocacy around the climate emergency, public health, racial injustice, and economic inequity is imperative. At Earth Island Journal, we have doubled down on our commitment to uplifting stories that often go unheard, to centering the voices of frontline communities, and to always speak truth to power. We are nonprofit publication. We don’t have a paywall because our mission is to inform, educate and inspire action. Which is why we rely on readers like you for support. If you believe in the work we do, please consider making a tax-deductible year-end donation to our Green Journalism Fund.Donate
Get four issues of the magazine at the discounted rate of $20.