How Peter Bellerby’s London globe making workshop strives to carry on a tradition that nobody even noticed had gone missing. A Juliette Leblanc and Jeremy Young story.
Some years ago, Peter Bellerby wanted to offer his father a handmade globe for his eightieth birthday. His father was a naval architect, and such a venerable age called for a special gift. Bellerby’s search remained unfruitful for years, having uncovered only either expensive, delicate antiques or poorly made modern globes. Not able to find anyone to make his father one by hand, he decided to do it himself. His project took two years to complete, and almost bankrupted him in the process, but after it was all said and done, Bellerby had found a niche in the market. Not long after, Bellerby & Co, Globemakers was born.
From the time an order is placed, a handmade globe could take months to finish; each must pass through at least five sets of hands before it makes its way to the customer. Everything is customized to order: colors, sizes, the styling of the base, any personalization details. Bellerby’s workshop will even add hand-painted illustrations (perhaps of family memories or adventures past) and cartographic additions, like markers on favorite places. Once the map has been designed, it goes to print. Pigments are mixed by hand and the slices of the map get a few washes of color while laid flat, before being expertly wet and stretched across the sphere.
It takes an apprentice globe maker at least six months to learn how to properly lay the paper on the smallest-sized sphere and further training is required for each size up. From there, the globe heads back to the painter, and in the meantime, the woodworker handcrafts its base. Metal pieces are then engraved and personalized by hand with traditional tools.
According to Bellerby, “there are not many products out there these days that you can personally design to suit your tastes and needs—working directly with the makers and creating something that will hopefully be a family heirloom passed down through generations.” Thankfully, people in the digital age are still fascinated by handcrafted objects. A virtual map might help us get somewhere nearby, but a globe will likely inspire us to go somewhere far, far away. “There will always be a love for well-crafted items; objects with meaning separate from newer things and progress in the digital world,” says Bellerby.
Territories and maps change more frequently than we realize, so Bellerby & Co employs two full-time cartographers to update maps, almost daily. Given the geographical impacts that climate change and political events have on the organization of the world, the company has had to update shrinking lakes and changing polar ice flow, as well as borders of countries that have been remapped. These globes are historical artifacts. They’re still timeless objects because, as Bellerby puts it, they’re useful historical tools in addition to being generally beautiful objects, ones that should be cherished by future generations, like paintings or sculptures. “There’s something amazing about capturing a moment in time on a map—the world as it was during one period,” says the craftsman.
The self-taught Peter Bellerby single-handedly created his own tradition. And he is passing it on to his team of 22 engravers, cartographers, woodworkers, metalworkers, painters, and makers. The globe maker has ignited a movement of people eager to master a time-consuming craft.
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