On the Map
Artist Ellen Macomber infuses an easygoing sensibility into map-inspired art.
Cheryl Gerber Photographs
The very pregnant artist Ellen Macomber sits outside on one of the balconies of her breezy Uptown home. The house, shaded by grand oak trees and decorated with pops of bold hues, in a past life was home to a pack of rowdy frat brothers (“There was underwear in the trees,” Macomber says, referring to the less-than-ideal condition of the house when they first arrived) but after some love from Macomber and her husband, Kevin, it’s now a perfect home and workspace for the artist and her expanding clan.
“This house is so big and so nice,” she says. “It’s so wonderful to live under oak trees. I’ve always wanted oak trees in my front yard, a porch swing, a balcony and a huge house, and I got it. So we do not plan on moving anytime soon.”
With the house Macomber shares an affable and colorful disposition, and this comes through in her art, which centers around maps painted on glass windows and textiles.
The Louisiana native grew up mostly in Abbeville and after a few years studying interior design in college, she decided to embark on an adventure.
“I decided my senior year I was so over my peers, teachers and interior design altogether, and I just wanted to travel,” she says. “So I bought myself a sewing machine and learned to sew and travelled. I would make clothes for different festivals and go to different countries and buy fabric, come back, make stuff and sell it to either boutiques, festivals and things like that.”
“When the hurricane came in 2005, I gave up my sewing machine and just started painting. It was kind of therapy, but also my family had this huge barn filled with these antique windows they were just going to throw and I was like, ‘Don’t throw them out, I’ll figure something out to do.’ And that’s when I just started painting on them.”
Her newfound creative outlet and recent string of travels would inform the signature element of her line, maps. Her maps of New Orleans, Louisiana, the Mississippi River and other locales painted on antique windows create a layered, translucent effect resembling stained glass. Pops of metallic lend a sense of magic to the grid of the maps.
“I think (my love of maps) developed because of my obsession with traveling, and my mom and dad had been getting National Geographic since the ‘70s,” she says. “Every now and then they have a map stuck to the inside that you can keep. So we have a bunch of these old maps I would look at and hang around my house, one day I was just like ‘Dude, that would look so badass on glass.’”
“It’s bringing sort of the design and art together, the very grid-like straight lines … it’s clean, sleek. Glass is super fun to paint on, too,” she says.
Macomber recently decided to return to her textile routes with a line of baby hats, bibs, blankets, skull caps and bowties emblazoned with her signature maps.
There’s also a set of New Orleans place mats, napkins and coasters available. Eventually she plans on adding a shower curtain and duvet cover to her repertoire.
The maps, on a white background, have gray lines accented with little pops of blue and green. “Just something that will go with everyone’s décor,” she says.
Macomber’s paintings are currently on display at Hotel Modern (“They love that I decorate their lobby; I love that I get to display my stuff,” she says), and she sells her fabric items in stores including Zuka Baby and SOPO. Besides awaiting her biggest creation, a baby, Macomber also works as a costumer for local film and theater productions, and she will be featured in a show at Ariodante Contemporary Craft Gallery in December. But mostly, she’s taking everything in with ease.
“I just do my thing and I’m glad it’s working,” she says.