Map of Mobile Bay Shows Artist’s Love of the Gulf

The route to Mobile Bay is filled with whimsy – at least through the lens of artist Melissa Smith.

Smith, an artist in Fairhope, Ala., has hand-drawn a new illustrated map of the Mobile Bay area. Through meticulous research and nearly a dozen drafts, she has drawn and painted a pictorial map of the bay and everything it stands for.

The 18-by-24-inch full color lithograph print – profiled in January in an article by The Press-Register and al.com – contains more than 200 points of interest about Mobile and surrounding cities such as Fairhope, Daphne, Bayou La Batre, Coden, Theodore and Montrose.

“By coming in here fresh, I think it gave me the opportunity to be sort of more objective and look with more of a curiosity and a different eye than if I’d lived here,” Smith, a native of Florida, said. “I didn’t have any emotional tie to anything. I really did just pick the things that, after talking to people, I thought were the most important or interesting. You have to be judicious.”

So what made it onto the map? Some illustrations show Bellingrath Gardens, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, Isle Dauphine Club, Bon Secour Bay and the Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo, or restaurants such as Manci’s Antique Club and Bailey’s. Smith said each has been in operation for at least 30 years. Scrolls detail points of interest, such as Bayou La Batre, which mentions the annual Blessing of the Fleet and the setting of Winston Groom’s Forrest Gump.

There are even about a dozen types of seafood on the map including Red Snapper, dolphin fish (Mahi-Mahi), Flounder, Mullet, Spanish Mackerel, oysters, shrimp and Blue Crab. (Alabama Gulf Seafood’s logo is also pictured, right below Bienville Beach.)

This isn’t the very first pictorial map of Mobile. The first was in the 1930s and another came in the 1970s. But while both were “whimsical and cute,” it was time for an update. In it is the region’s past and present – rarely seen all at once.

The idea came from a friend at Lyons Share Custom Frames and Gallery in Fairhope. Someone had visited to ask if anyone could do a map of local restaurants and bars, and Smith was suggested. She’s done pen and ink drawings of homes and wildlife, but nothing quite like this. But Smith was excited about the idea.

Everything is drawn, painted with watercolor, and scanned into a computer. The final copy, which took about nine months, has 100 layers of images over each other to make up the full map. Sometimes Smith might spend a good hour writing it with pen and ink and then coloring it. And sometimes she’d have to redo hours of work just to move an item down a quarter of an inch and over an eighth.

“It’s nerve-wracking, because I’ve got the whole black-and-white map ready to go, and if I screw up I need to start all over again.”

Smith, whose art studio is on a houseboat named Pleasure Bay that she lives on with her 12-year-old son and her boyfriend, says she can see many of the things on the map from her studio.

“Baldwin County is so beautiful and rich,” she said. “You catch one of these back roads on a late day sun. Everything is beautiful.”

The art gallery where the idea began – Lyons Share Custom Frames and Gallery in Fairhope, Ala. – is selling copies of the map for $40 both at the store and online at www.mobilebaymap.com.