New solo exhibit celebrates the art of cartography

HAND-DRAWN: “My goal is to create a work of art, first and foremost, and then second is to render an accurate delineation of geography,” says artist Michael Francis Reagan. Photo by Christine Reagan

by Lucas Britt

Local artist Michael Francis Reagan is a member of a small and dwindling group of cartographers. Just don’t call him that. 

“I think of myself as a map artist,” he says. “My goal is to create a work of art, first and foremost, and then second is to render an accurate delineation of geography.” 

On Saturday, July 13, 2-5 p.m., Grovewood Village will host the opening of Reagan’s latest exhibit, The Last Mapmaker. The show, which features works from across the internationally recognized artist’s career, will run through Sunday, Sept. 15.

“The maps in this Grovewood exhibit are maps that I’ve held back in my own private collection. I felt it was time to offer them to the public and to collectors,” says Reagan, whose creations have appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, National Geographic and others. “[It] is a sweeping retrospective of my maps showing many places and events in the world and in different styles over the years.” 

Time and place 

Reagan cites travel as a key inspiration behind his passion for mapmaking. Born into a military family, he’s lived around the world, including stints in Japan, Germany and the south of Spain. 

“My earliest memories are from the age of 5 of the mountainous seacoast of southern Japan, where I was taught to draw and paint by a Japanese artist,” he says. “Also, I have memories of looking for hours and hours at the maps in National Geographic magazines and dreaming of those faraway places.” 

After serving in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, Reagan settled for a period in San Francisco. He then went on a “three-year drift of the Pacific and the Caribbean islands,” he notes. Reagan worked odd jobs wherever he could during this period and eventually joined the Peace Corps. He was stationed in Ivory Coast, where he met his wife, Christine. The couple relocated to Western North Carolina in the early 2000s. 

In addition to mapping the many places he’s visited or called home, Reagan is also inspired by history. Over his career, he’s created dozens of maps focusing on areas in which wars or battles were fought — from the Civil War to the recent U.S. war in Afghanistan. Reagan highlights each map with defining characteristics unique to the area and period in which the battle took place. 

These particular projects, he says, “help educate people on the horrors of those wars.” In doing so, he adds, he hopes the message can deter future wars. 

Old-school artist 

These days, Reagan says he’s creating fewer maps, focusing instead on oil paintings of landscapes and seascapes for many art galleries, including his solo exhibition, Falling, hosted by Grovewood Village earlier this month. But Reagan still admires the form and worries about the influence technology has had on the medium. 

“All my maps are hand-painted and hand-lettered, watercolor and ink,” he says. “I’ve never used computers to enhance or construct my maps in any way at all, nor will I ever. I’m an old-school artist, a dinosaur, and happy to be one. In my opinion, computers and AI are in the process of destroying not only art but civilization itself.” 

He continues, “I’m content with the human hand — with all its flaws and faults and humanness — brushes and paints and canvas and paper.” 

For his upcoming exhibit, Reagan says he hopes viewers walk away more informed.

“I’m proudest of my maps that help educate people in some way, whether it be in wildlife or earth conservation or expanding people’s understanding of different cultures,” he says.

Grovewood Village is at 111 Grovewood Road. For more information, visit


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