Denver Art Museum: Uncharted

Posted by on Jul 30, 2014 in Map Making | 13 comments

A few months ago I was invited to participate in an event at the Denver Art Museum. My job was to find a piece in the museum that would inspire me to make my own artwork, with the theme “Uncharted” and then present it to an audience with a 20 minute talk. This is a huge honor for me, and a bar that is set a bit higher than other art challenges I have had. They told me many hundreds of people attend this event, and any of you who have done a thing like this know the two big fears

1. I will forget all my words and choke on stage

2. I will reveal my “baby” and no one will think it is pretty

Now I am certainly not without confidence, but let’s face it, this is huge new territory and new things spark up the doubts! At the same time, I welcome growth and movement and I am fully aware of how that feels, so I embraced the jitters and went to the museum for my first appointment, where I would pick out the piece in their collection.

The museum is familiar to me, I have been there many times. There is the older wing and the newer wing, connected by a bridge. The newer wing holds modern and contemporary art, where I fully expected to be inspired. That is not what happened though. I started my perusal of the collection in the Native American section of the old wing, and stopped in my tracks when I encountered this.


This is a Ute Indian robe. I took one look at it and knew this was my piece, it spoke to me. It was not until I started learning about this robe and the tribe that it represented that I understood how perfect it was for this project. All the stories this robe had spoke to me immediately.

The Ute tribe was and still is a primarily a tribe of Colorado, the state where I currently live. They were traders and were greatly influenced by the other tribes around them. The geometric patterns, which you can see better when the robe is flat, come from the Sioux.


The robe is made from elk hide rubbed with ochre, which is natural earth pigment that runs in color from yellow to nearly purple. It is decorated with stitched on glass trade beads that the Europeans brought from Venice, Italy. Did you know that all Native American beading is done with these beads?

At the bottom in the center are metal beads made from up cycled broken bits of  rifles, pots and the like, also from the Europeans.The robe was likely made by a woman, and is a rare treasure since it was the Ute custom to burn all material goods with a person at the event of their death.

My piece is a map of Colorado. The ochre area represents the prairie, that daunting flatness that suddenly presents the formidable rising of the great Rocky Mountains. The center is the Rocky Mountains, the green is the Western Slope. This is the largest map I have ever made, being 4′ x 6′.

Colorado Mapb


All the papers are either handmade or hand painted, and I gave myself the challenge of only using materials I had at hand. The papers in the center are mono prints I made on a gelatin plate. The colorful squares are demos I did in a paste paper class. The strip they sit on is the I-70 corridor, which runs across the state of Colorado and connects us to many exciting places along the way.


The beads are paper, made from this map, a geological map of Colorado. Click here to see the whole map, and where to buy it. The fibers I used for stitching them on are made from pine and linen, delicious thread made by my friend Fiona, who live and has her business in New Zealand. You can see her wonderful products and order from her HERE.


The sun on top of my map, and the robe, is reminiscent of the state flag of Colorado. Coincidence. These beads are also made from the map of Colorado, and the fibers are from Fiona.





The only commercial material I used was the ribbon that runs across the I-70 strip, and adds a sense of movement.IMG_3072

T hank you to all the people who showed up for this presentation, some of whom are shown here. I did not choke or faint, and you seemed to like my “baby.” Thank you, thank you!


  1. This is fabulous. Congratulations.

  2. Jill, it is wonderful. Thanks for sharing the inspiration and the symbology of the piece. It is a beautiful piece.

  3. Oh, I miss you Jill! So glad to learn the story behind the map: thanks!

  4. Oh, Jill, this piece just blows me away. You’re multiplying the inspiration and passing it forward.

  5. Spectacular Jill. You really captured the spirit of the robe, and the state of Colorado. Wish I could see it in person!

  6. What a wonderful map you created Jill! I had no doubt that you would do a spectacular job. I loved reading about the robe and its history as well as the creation of your piece of art. Will the museum keep your map? Or will it be on display there?

  7. Truly amazing, Jill. Congratulations on not choking or fainting. I’m sure your talk was wonderful. xo

  8. fabulous Jill!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. wonderful Jill !!!!

  10. What a perfect intermingling of cultural influences Jill . . . you obviously love everything about the land. The symbols are so easy to understand and incorporate into the story. Thank you for sharing the korero (the story/explanation) of this piece.

  11. This is just stunning. I live about a 90 minute drive from the Canadian Rocky Mountains and I love the ochre/green to represent different sides of the mountains. That’s exactly what it’s like here, too.

  12. I love the colors and texture in this work!
    The handmade papers are so wonderful!

    Christy Tremblay

  13. Thankyou for both the inspiring creative piece and sharing your very human response to ‘putting yourself out there’ as an artist. I too am involved in exploring ancestral lines and spirit of place on this island of mine.

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