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Artist Puts Ravenswood on the Map Even Though It Technically Doesn't Exist

By Patty Wetli | September 12, 2014 5:54am
 Joe Mills' latest Chicago neighborhood map is a Lincoln Square-Ravenswood mashup.
Putting Neighborhoods on the Map
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RAVENSWOOD — How do you draw a map of something that technically doesn't exist?

That was the challenge facing artist Joe Mills, who recently expanded his portfolio of Chicago neighborhood maps to include illustrated surveys of Lincoln Square-Ravenswood and Uptown.

"Ravenswood was a toughie because it has very vague boundary lines," said Mills, a Hyde Park resident who teaches in Naperville.

Patty Wetli says that Joe Mills is ready for the criticisms about the maps:

Chicago has 77 defined community areas and Ravenswood isn't one of them, dipping into parts of Lincoln Square, North Center, Uptown and Lakeview.

"I tried to find the most approved boundary lines — what ... people really think it is," Mills said.

 Joe Mills' map of Lincoln Square-Ravenswood. The image has been cropped for publication.
Joe Mills' map of Lincoln Square-Ravenswood. The image has been cropped for publication.
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Joe Mills

Ultimately he settled on Foster and Montrose avenues on the north and south and Ravenswood and Clark streets on the west and east, which means that Ravenswood Elementary fell off the map, as did the home of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who's frequently referenced as living in Ravenswood.

Mills is prepared for complaints. He's fielded them before, particularly with his map of Lincoln Park, and has learned to take the comments in stride.

"I'm comfortable now with the way I design things," he said, adding that the maps aren't intended to be "a navigation thing. I do take parts of streets away to fit things. Design decision more than map accuracy comes into play a lot more than I would want it to."

A typical Mills map is formed out of an intricate patchwork of typography, graphic elements and drawings of notable landmarks.

"Some of it's just stuff I think is cool," he said.

A former resident of Ravenswood — and Lincoln Square and Uptown — Mills started work on the maps by jogging his personal memories and then researching the neighborhoods' history.

"One of the last things I do is walk the neighborhoods" looking for unusual architecture detail, he said.

Iron work above the doors of Chappell Elementary caught his eye, for example, and he incorporated that into the map.

Parks, schools and churches feature heavily in Mills' maps — Merz Apothecary and the Davis Theater are rare examples of commercial enterprises included in his work — in large part because they meet his criteria of "things that will be there or will be remembered years from now," he said. "I didn't want to make a 2014 map."

It's a lesson he learned the hard way, after creating a food map of Chicago.

"Then Trotter's shut down," Mills said.

"I can't guess what's going to be there even a year from now."

Having completed the Lincoln Square-Ravenswood and Uptown maps, Mills is taking a break from the neighborhood project and focusing his energy on designing a set of Chicago-themed playing cards (e.g., Mike Ditka as the King of Clubs). He'll pick back up in 2015, likely with a map of Logan Square, he said.

For now, Mills' limited-edition prints, which cost $35, are only sold on his website or at festivals.

The next event where you can buy a map? The Ravenswood ArtWalk, of course.

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