Academic journal article Oregon Historical Quarterly

The Pictorial Maps of Fred A. Routledge

Academic journal article Oregon Historical Quarterly

The Pictorial Maps of Fred A. Routledge

Article excerpt

FOLLOWING THE 1936 DEATH of Oregon artist and cartographer Fred A. Routledge, a correspondent to the Morning Oregonian offered a written tribute that included the following thoughts:

In the passing of Mr Routledge, Portland and the Pacific northwest have lost an artist whose life and work were linked.... He was a lover of the great outdoors, and through his art faithfully interpreted mountain, river, valley, gorge and forest. ... His ability to accurately put in illustrated form vast areas and stretches of country made it possible in earlier days for thousands to visualize, and enjoy, what we now see from the air. (1)

The writer is referring to Routledge's skills as a creator of maps that depicted, as if seen from above and at great distance, the physical characteristics and topographical relationships that existed in vast expanses of land, thereby making intelligible to viewers a vision of the world that, because of its magnitude, could not be experienced in life. Air travel and satellites now provide pictures of Earth seen from distant vantage points, but in Routledge's day, it was the interpretive skills of artists that enabled such vision. Although, in their diversity, his maps defy rigorous categorization, the elastic term "pictorial map" can be usefully employed in describing them, as the term signifies the fact that both aesthetic and practical intent coexisted in their creation.

With a career spanning the 1890s through the early 1930s, Routledge's work as a commercial artist was remarkably diverse and involved illustration as well as pictorial cartography. The products of his studio were found in the readily disposed-of pages of newspapers and magazines or in short-lived promotional brochures and therefore lacked the self-contained identity associated with works of fine art. Routledge no doubt had aspirations as a fine artist--indeed, he received awards for his paintings, including a first prize at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. His ephemeral work as a pictorial cartographer, acknowledged in the tribute cited above, includes accomplishments that warrant greater recognition.

Personal details relating to Routledge's life and career are quite scarce, and the little that has been published offers scant insight into his artistic endeavors; moreover, the extant sources involving biography are often fraught with error. Certain details regarding Routledge's background first appeared in a 1912 obituary for his mother, a one-time resident of Ashland, Oregon. The Ashland Tidings observed that the Routledge family had settled in Portland in 1886 and that Fred Routledge had nine siblings (two deceased). (2) Four of his brothers operated the Routledge Seed and Floral Company, a well-known Portland business evidently founded by their father. The obituary further observed that "the family has been remarkable in its close relationship and almost unanimous residence in one city." (3)

The Morning Oregonian's 1936 obituary referred to Routledge as a "well-known drawer of pictorial maps" and followed that description with a brief sketch of his career:

Mr Routledge was born in Abilene, Kan. September 7, 1871, but spent most of his early life in Rockford, Ill. before coming to Portland. In 1896 he was married to Lydia McGowan. His first art work in Portland was on the old West Shore publication.... He later joined the Morning Oregonian staff and until his health failed three years ago operated a commercial art studio. (4)

Lydia McGowan was a well-regarded ceramicist, or keramic artist; the couple made their home in Northeast Portland while Routledge maintained a studio, with several changes of address over the years, in the city center.

The West Shore magazine, referred to in the obituary, began publication in Portland in 1875 as a literary magazine but, over time, morphed into a heavily illustrated booster publication touting the glories of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. …

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