By Susan DeMaggio
What do you do with a 10-foot-square temperature-controlled closet full of rare and remarkable maps that you’ve carefully and joyfully collected over the last 20 years? If you’re La Jollan Michael Stone, financier, philanthropist and father of three, you check with your wife Karen and then you create a Map & Atlas Museum in town with the hope of sharing your treasures with the next generation and your community.
At the Feb. 8 opening of the handsomely appointed La Jolla Map & Atlas Museum on the lower level of the Merrill Lynch Building on Fay Avenue, Stone told friends and family that “It’s my hope that this museum will become a national model; that it will turn the map experience into an educational experience for children and visitors of all ages.”
Stone said his next step is to get a docent program up and running to allow public access, and to increase the museum’s exposure to the greater San Diego area.
Stone’s noteworthy collection contains some 500 maps and atlases that span the 1400s to mid-1900s with “items that would be considered rare cartographic material — and most have some critical importance in a historical or political context,” he added.
Like his 1777 “Theatre of the American Revolution” map produced to inform the French public of Burgoyne’s surrender to the American Army at Saratoga.
Or his fur trade map from the 1600s with an ominous red line down the watercourse between Labrador and Nova Scotia dividing the French and British “interests” in North America.
Or his fanciful 1958 “Southern California Roads to Romance” map, once a developer’s marketing dream.
Family friend Melissa Fay moved through the museum studying the maps with awe. “You can learn a lot about people’s perceptions of the world by looking at their maps,” she said. “And the maps are really amazing works of art when you consider that they were all done by hand – no computers or graphic designers back then.”
Stone, 48, is originally from Connecticut. He moved to La Jolla with his family seven years ago, He said his fascination with maps blossomed with a visit to the Lancaster, Pa. fair when he was dating Karen. A vendor was selling maps and their beauty and educational value captivated him.
Stone attended Duke University and Harvard Business School going on to establish the private firm, Westwind Investors. He serves on the board of the San Diego Museum of Art and also advises the board of the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library.
His love of old maps led him to befriend Barry Ruderman, 48, a La Jollan who’s become “the largest online antiquarian map seller in the world,” and Daniel Crouch, 36, who created the map and atlas department of Bernhard Shapero Rare Books in London. Both men spoke at the museum opening and applauded the collection.
Crouch advised viewers to keep three things in mind when looking at maps from antiquity — practicality, politics and price. “One of the earliest maps ever discovered from about 1380, covered the seas and basically said at the bottom corner, ‘There are really good fish here.’ That was practical information back then!”