In North Carolina, Karen O’ Leary creates modern maps that are treasured for the memories and the stories they tell. CONTRIBUTED BY WWW.STUDIOKMO.ETSY.COM
Photo: For the AJC
Photo: For the AJC

Southern Made: for those with wanderlust

Modern map maker

North Carolina-based artist and architect Karen M. O’Leary creates modern city maps with an X-Acto knife or pen.

The artist and owner: Born in Seoul, South Korea, O’Leary grew up in Pennsylvania. She graduated with a degree in architecture from Virginia Tech, where she first made a hand-cut map as part of her fifth-year architecture thesis. After graduation, while working in New York City, she made a hand-cut map for herself. It was 6 feet by 8 feet and took nine months to complete. In 2009, she listed the NYC map on, where it was bought and generated lots of interest.

The company: Studio KMO, based in Charlotte, started in 2009 and sells custom maps of favorite cities and places. It offers three collections: handcrafted maps of any city or location, ink drawings, and city-pressed prints.

The hand-cut process: Once ordered, the paper maps are hand-cut, block by block. Cutting them by hand allows O’Leary the opportunity to design and customize each one.

What’s popular: The 10-inch-by-10-inch original maps ($125 to $175). Most requested cities include Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, New York City and Paris.

Most time-consuming map: London. The blocks are irregular and dense, unlike any other.

Big break: Featured in Oprah’s O Magazine (2014). Also a 2016 finalist in Garden & Gun magazine’s “Made in the South Awards.”

Where to

Brandi Couvillion’s jewelry designs immortalize the transitory landscapes of New Orleans’ history. CONTRIBUTED BY WWW.BCOUVILLION.COM
Photo: For the AJC

New Orleans chic

Brandi Couvillion tells a story of New Orleans in her contemporary and historically inspired jewelry.

The artist: A New Orleans native, Couvillion graduated from Tulane University and studied woodworking and jewelry at the Penland School of Crafts (N.C.). While working as the CFO of a nonprofit historic preservation center in New Orleans for six years, she was involved in a 10-year restoration of a Victorian-era home in the Lower Garden District. The project further fueled her passion for the city, maps and historic architecture and inspired her mixed media art and jewelry.

The company: Brandi Couvillion started in 2005 in New Orleans. Her jewelry work, comprising metal etchings of historic New Orleans maps culled from archives, includes bracelets, earrings and necklaces.

The process: She begins her pieces with raw sheets of metal and uses an intensive, handcrafted process involving heat image transfers, various etchants, patinas and polishes, as well as hammer forming.

What’s popular: The Nine Muses Cuff Bracelet and the Bayou St. John Cuff Bracelet (the map is from 1880) range from $160 to $325, depending on the metal (brass, copper or sterling silver) and amount of detail in the piece.

Other favorites: The Mississippi River Cuff Bracelet (from Baton Rouge to New Orleans and out through the delta in 1863). Prices range from $175 to $350.

Where to

Versatile travel journals with pockets and envelopes are hand made in Georgia by Cindy Leaders at Free Range Bookbinding. CONTRIBUTED BY WWW.FREERANGEBOOKBINDING.COM
Photo: For the AJC

By the book

Cindy Leaders became obsessed with handmade books in 2006. Ten years and more than 4,000 journals and books later, the Georgia artist says it is the best job she has ever had.

The artist: Leaders stumbled upon the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, N.C., and attended a weeklong class in bookbinding and fell in love with the process.

The company: Toccoa-based Free Range Bookbinding started on a whim as Useful Books in 2007. It produces handmade personalized journals and special-occasion books using maps and unexpected materials, like manila envelopes and index cards.

What’s popular: Versatile travel journal with pockets and envelopes ($45). Also, two other travel journals for longer trips with pockets, envelopes and an expandable spine ($75 to $110). All travel journals can be personalized with maps to reflect the customer’s personal travels, as well as names, dates and short phrases.

Fun request: Create an expandable spine from a Pendaflex file pocket that allows for a book to expand and hold many photos and mementos. The request came from an older man who had traveled the world several times and wanted a unique place to keep tickets, itineraries and menus from his travels.

Claim to fame: Invited to teach at the Folk School in 2015. It was a huge honor and felt like coming full circle from where she started.

What’s next: A wedding vows book.

Where to

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