Artist makes maps using U.S. state soils
April 11, 2013
Les Gregor is an artist from Canada, but has recently taken a unique interest in the United States. The artist uses soil collected from all 50 U.S. states to create large maps of the country, each state layered with its respective state soil. The idea began as an accident but has turned into a unique project and an enjoyable hobby for the 85-year-old.
SSSA: How did this project get started?
Les: Well, I was outside working on a different project. I was using a piece of MACtac, an adhesive product, and I dropped it on the ground. It was already kind of in the shape of a U.S. state. So I picked it up, looked at it, and thought, “I think I could make an entire U.S. map like this.” It just kind of came to me. Then I got ahold of 3M, got some double stick material, and started cutting out the various states and assembling everything.
SSSA: What goes into putting together one of these maps?
Les: When I decided to start doing this, I got ahold of a friend of mine and we made a silk screen. Then we laid down the basic pattern for the map and applied adhesive paint. Next, I made a mirror image mold that had these little wells which allowed me to put soil inside the borders of individual states to keep them separate. Finally, I put the silkscreen board over the mold upside down, and flipped it. And there it was. I had literally printed earth.
SSSA: What was your first impression of the map once it was completed?
Les: I liked what I saw. It reminded me of a patchwork quilt. It was very colorful. The soils I got from the various departments of agriculture were really quite unique.
SSSA: Talk about the collection process. How did you go about collecting soil from all 50 states?
Les: I wrote to each individual department of agriculture. I just asked them if they would send me some soil and that I had a project in mind. The only state that didn’t send me anything was Kansas. They said they weren’t allowed to ship earth out of the state. So I wrote to a friend of mine that I know down there and asked him to send me some soil, he said sure, and bingo! I got it.
SSSA: Has this project received a lot of attention so far?
Les: When I started off doing this, Seth Stevenson, a writer for Slate.com, had a note somewhere on the website saying that he was searching for unusual maps. So I wrote to him and said, “Maybe you haven’t got one like this.” He called me, just like you did, and said it was great. I told him all about it, and the next thing I knew, it appeared in the online Slate.com magazine. Then I started getting all kinds of inquiries.
SSSA: Do you have any history with soil or agriculture?
Les: Not really. I once owned a 50-acre farm. And then when I was a kid, I spent some summers on the family farm. So I guess I’m pretty familiar with farm life and produce. I’ve always had a nice feeling for agriculture. But for this project, I just liked the idea, that’s all. It’s a unique project, and it keeps me out of the wine cellar.
Each map costs $195, and will be mailed to you from Gregor’s home in Montreal.