Fifty years ago, Jerry Gretzinger started painting a map of a world that existed only in his imagination. It began as a doodle, but since that first day, he has been adding a new hand-drawn panel to his map every day. Today the masterpiece known as Jerry’s Map numbers 2,600 different unique panels that cover 2,000 square feet. And it’s still growing…
“The map began as just a doodle. I just made little rectangles and cross-hatched them carefully. And I just kept adding more rectangles and I put a river in and some railroad stations,” Gretzinger explains in a short documentary about his work. ”But there was this moment when I came to the edge of that sheet of paper and got out another sheet of paper and I put the two together… That’s when I realized that it kind of had a life of its own.” He started out with a city that kept on growing, until he realized its imaginary population had to eat to survive, so he decided to throw in some farmland. He added rivers, forests, cemeteries, railroad stations, airports transforming small towns into cities as his universe evolved and keeping track of the population of each of his imaginary settlements on a computer spreadsheet. Even though it might seem like he is controlling everything that happens in Ukrainia, Plaeides and his other cities, Jerry has created a system that dictates almost everything that happens in his world.
Gretzinger has a special deck of cards, each featuring a different instruction regarding the evolution of his world. He simply pulls a card from the deck and proceeds to make the necessary changes. It can be anything from adding specific infrastructure to his parishes, to replacing certain panels with exact copies, with the new ones representing new generations, and even adding white squares over portions of the map, representing an invading void. This destructive force slowly spreads consuming everything around it, but his cities have ways of defending against it, like the void defense wall surrounding Ukrainia. Not even he knows which parts of his map will survive the void, or how his world will further evolve, because the answers come with each new draw from the deck of cards. ”It’s a new world for me,” he says. “My hand puts the paint on the paper and then I stand back and say, ‘Wow,’ as if I were not the perpetrator. I’m just the observer.”
Jerry’s Map has undergone massive transformation since that first panel was painted in 1963, and its mastermind plans to continue the project for at least another 20 years, althout he admits it’s a bit “like painting the Golden Gate Bridge, you never finish”. For a more detailed version of Jerry Gretzinger’s incredible imaginary world, click on the first photo in this article, or better yet, check out this interactive online version.