Nautical North Wooden Charts – A Technical Art
“It’s where art meets technology,” explained Chris Doucette, owner of Nautical North Wooden Charts, Maps & More (110 Dock St., Annapolis, MD 21401) when asked about his intricately-designed wooden clocks, trays, cribbage boards, and tables displayed in a corner building just across the way from Ego Alley at the City Dock in downtown Annapolis. The gallery holds a vast sampling of the design varieties offered (over 4,000 shipped throughout the country), all depicting bodies of water from every part of the world – including, of course, nearby stretches of the Chesapeake Bay. The idea originated in 2009 when Chris combined his experience in laser technology with artistic creations now seen in the storefront, which opened a few years later.
The genesis of a design begins with nautical maps and satellite imagery as drafting guides to ensure the piece accurately captures the characteristics of its subject area. Once ﬁnalized, these designs are transferred onto wood using laser technology, after which the piece can be completed via staining and painting. Depending on the item, the wood may be etched throughout to delineate coastlines (primarily done with cribbage boards), or produced as a “single-level”, meaning the surface wood is contoured at multiple depths to create a three-dimensional effect (usually done with clocks, trays, tables, and most other items). The framing for pieces such as trays and tables are also manufactured in-house at the company’s wood-shop in Sarasota, Florida. As the entire process involves elaborate graphic detail and several weeks of woodworking, Nautical North places an emphasis on ensuring the quality and longevity of each ﬁnished product by including features such as backings to prevent warping, shadow frame spacers to secure the design, and protective spray to seal and ﬁnish products.
While the design and production teams work in unison on all these elements, Nautical North also remains heavily focused on ensuring a personalized customer experience. Chris’ objective for the gallery is to provide a space where customers have the opportunity to see and examine the complexity of each piece beyond what images can demonstrate online. Custom orders are exciting as maps can be created for “any body of water, anywhere in the world, in any scope”, Chris says. This involves choices between different color stains, solid woods (including cherry, walnut, and an African hardwood called ‘padauk’), and specialized labeling of map locations to indicate “Home” or a family name. This type of customization is what allows the company to offer so many design options – or better yet, so much liberty to the customer envisioning their own piece.
Walking through the gallery is truly an experience in and of itself – the wood smell, the warm lighting, and the displays organized throughout the room. I certainly recommend a visit, especially if you have a penchant for unique wooden timepieces or elaborate geographic trays.
Photos courtesy of Melissa Kuhta