Meeting a globemaker

— by Alyson Walsh

Photo: Taran Wilkhu

Artist and cartographer Loraine Rutt spent ’25-years ticking over and teaching on the side’ before setting up her own business The Little Globe Company and is busier now, in her 50s, than she’s ever been. From the age of 16, Loraine worked as a cartographer in the geography department at Birkbeck College, University of London. Going on to study a degree in ceramics at Central Saint Martins in her twenties, she funded herself with a job as a motorcycle courier. Now 54, and showing at art galleries and fairs around the world – her lifetime love of maps, geography and ceramics has come together beautifully. Everything is related: bespoke miniature globes, relief maps of Peckham and porcelain, London-shaped wall hangings (there’s one in the photo above), based on Charles Booth’s Victorian poverty maps of the capital go ‘from mapping the world to hyper-local geography.’ The London-born globemaker continues to work in architectural ceramics and recently acted as a glazing consultant for Pocket Living an affordable housing company constructing a ceramic-clad tower block. A poignant topic right now, given the Grenfell disaster in London, this summer.

I collect globes (click HERE to see my collection) and found Loraine via The Garnered website. Coincidently, her studio under a railway arch in Peckham is just down the road from That’s Not My Age Mansions, so I went along for a nosey and we bonded over our shared love of a good orb:

Photo: Ian Skelton

TNMA: I’m a globe obsessive and have been collecting vintage models for years –  how did you become interested?

LR: It started when I was a kid, my uncle went on a round-the-world trip, he was in his 70s, and would send us postcards. The family would sit and go through the atlas and look where he was; so very early on maps became imbued with people and descriptive stories and places. Also, my dad was a draughtsman and so I grew up with lots of maps and drawings in the house and could visualise turning them into 2D and 3D. The globes came from my degree show, they were the first thing I ever made and the first thing I sold.

TNMA: Why pocket-sized?

LR: I had the good fortune to meet a globe restorer who invited me to see his collection. He put a 200-year-old pocket globe in my hand, it was so exquisite – it really blew me away  – the sense of history, the stories, the low value materials. It was made from a bit of fish skin (shagreen).

TNMA: The miniature globes are beautiful – tell me a bit about the how you make them?

LR: It took me two years to perfect the globes, I wanted to get them as topographically correct as possible and working in ceramics can be tricky – I’d been trying different types of porcelain and clay. Other people might’ve done it quicker but I wanted the material and the mapping to be as perfect as possible. I didn’t want them to look like wonky cricket balls.

I work in small batches – about five globes at a time – once the porcelain globe is cast (I have a series of molds), I scribe and detail all the definition with an ergonomic tool made from one of my grandma’s old sewing needles. Then I paint them with ceramic stains and oxides so that the colour goes into the surface of the clay, burnish them before they’re fired and finally polish them with a diamond pad.

TNMA: And they’re very popular – you’re having a bit of a moment – why do people love miniature globes?

LR: I know, I’m flat out and need an assistant! It’s really lovely. There is something really beautiful about holding a scale model of the world in your hands. It gives you an awareness of how precious the planet is – and that’s what I want to embody in my work. And there are lovely analogies – when people buy a globe as a present, ‘ you mean the world to me’, ‘love you to the moon and back’, that kind of thing. I want people to keep the globes forever and pass them onto their children and grandchildren. Part of what I’m doing is getting people to pass on stories.

Photo: Sarah Weal for The Garnered

TNMA: Can you tell me a bit about your Modern Booth Series?

LR: I’m really aware of poverty in the UK and the perception that London is very wealthy and wanted to make work that showed that this wealth is not evenly distributed. I found contemporary data that exposed the extremes and went from there. I’m a fifth-generation Londoner and passionate about where people live and London being developed properly so that it is a mix of workspace and affordable housing. It’s such an important thing.

TNMA: And how does the creative process work?

LR: I have more ideas than I have time to make. There is something about the repetition of making the globes  – I keep seeing other opportunities and possibilities. I used to shy away from repetition but now I find it quite meditative and I’ve realised that every piece I make is unique. Often I’ll have a Eureka moment when I’m working, I always have music on and so it depends whether I’m listening to AC/DC or The Archers.

TNMA: What skills do you need to become a globe maker?

LR: An immense amount of patience, a sense of humour, a good eye and a steady hand.

TNMA: And what’s your career highlight?

LR: I met the astronaut Alfred Worden last year, he bought two of my globes and then tweeted,’ What you do is brilliant!’ Getting that affirmation from someone who has been to the moon with the Apollo 15 mission, who has that perspective, is amazing.

Photo by Sarah Weal for The Garnered

Pop in and see Loraine at Peckham Festival this weekend. The Arches Studio, 48-50 Blenheim Grove SE15 4QL. Or at New Scientist Live at the end of the month.

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