HOBOKEN, N.J. - In 2020, during the pandemic, when doors were tightly shut and spirits were down, author, illustrator and naturalist Marni Fylling started going on walks around her neighborhood, finding familiar comfort in spotting unfamiliar plants and animals. And, soon enough, she was covering several miles each day, pen and notebook in hand, often accompanied by a friend, surveying the streets of a city she has called home for 20 years.
“I took note of bodegas, coffee shops, churches and schools (current and defunct),” said Fylling in an email interview with NewsBreak.
The months of exploring, researching and sketching culminated into a delightful illustrated map of Hoboken which found its way to Little City Books in Hoboken this week.
“For visitors to Hoboken, it is quite detailed with historical attractions and places to buy traditional fresh mutz or coffee. And it's so pretty — it is a great souvenir for tourists, or keepsake for locals,” said Kate Jacobs, co-owner, Little City Books, in an email interview. “We are so pleased and proud to offer this picture of Hoboken,” she added.
Be it a lady beetle or the birthplace of Dorothea Lange, flora or forgotten buildings, the map promises to be a trusted companion, guiding you through the historic streets of the “mile square city”.
From the back burner to the forefront
When the pandemic forced people indoors last year, Fylling initially found joy in the warmth of a good meal — cooking ravioli and fancy candies with her son.
But as someone who majored in Zoology and authored two books on the natural world, it was not long before this California native started missing the outdoors.
“I needed to get out of our apartment, to get some exercise, and my ‘Nature in Your Neighborhood’ book was coming out soon,” she recalled.
She was hoping for a formal book launch at the bookstore and initially stepped out to draw sketches to complement her new book. The streets of Hoboken, however, took her down a different path.
“I wanted to scope out locations for plants and animals that were in the book for a new Instagram page (@marnifylling) and for the book talk. I realized that this would be the perfect time to dig out the old map notes and work on that too.”
She dug out “old map notes” because this was not the first time she was going to be working on the illustrated map. The seed was planted a few years back.
“A couple of years ago, the owners of the bookstore [Little City Books] asked me if I'd be interested in doing a hand-drawn map of Hoboken to sell at the store. Donna [the co-owner] had some really charming neighborhood maps from her travels in Japan. I was a little intimidated but excited, as I love maps,” said Fylling who also works at the bookstore.
Fylling, who has a graduate degree in Natural Science Illustration, started work on the map back then, but then hit a stumbling block. “When I started to get the grid of Hoboken's streets sketched out, I realized it was a much bigger undertaking than I had imagined. Donna's maps were of very small neighborhoods — local thrift shops, etc. They are all in Japanese, so I'm not sure exactly what else, but they cover a tiny area, just a few blocks,” she recalled.
She also had to factor in the technical nuances. Though Hoboken is a small town, she noted it was big enough, that on a map, each block would be less than an inch tall and about a half inch wide. That, she explained, was not a lot of room to work with. “And I certainly wouldn't be able to draw many buildings without the map looking like a sloppy mess.” She scouted for other maps for inspiration, but nothing came close.
“There were a lot of failed attempts at technique, colors, etc. Other work got in the way, and the ambitious map project was put on the back burner for a while,” she said. The pandemic afforded Fylling the time to get the project off the ground.
A map with a heart
On commissioning a physical map in the digital age, Jacobs exclaimed, “Because we're a bookstore, with physical books! Also we just wanted to have a beautiful map.”
For Fylling, it was a natural fit. “I'm not a very digital person — even now, I have a pretty rudimentary cell phone plan, without data to speak of. When friends and I went to the Women's March back in 2017, my paper maps (old commercial ones) saved the day, as no one had reception or power. We were still able to find the Metro stations, even though most of them were closed. We had to keep moving on to the next one down the line, which we found with the map. Ha!”
When friends and I went to the Women's March back in 2017, my paper maps (old commercial ones) saved the day, as no one had reception or power. We were still able to find the Metro stations, even though most of them were closed. We had to keep moving on to the next one down the line, which we found with the map. Ha!”
Working on the map also turned out to be an opportunity for Fylling to discover the neighborhood and stumble across unexpected places and hidden histories. “I found so many cool little nooks and crannies, discovered a wetland area that I had no idea was there, some neat trails, and some mysterious buildings. I researched many of them, or mentioned them to friends who told me stories of the old days,” she said.
I found so many cool little nooks and crannies, discovered a wetland area that I had no idea was there, some neat trails, and some mysterious buildings."
For instance, she has included a recently demolished structure which once housed Casella’s Restaurant. She was fascinated by its history. Try finding this unlabelled gem on her map which has over 80 marked landmarks.
The author of ‘Fylling's Illustrated Guide to Pacific Coast Tide Pools’ and ‘Fylling’s Illustrated Guide to Nature in Your Neighborhood’ said one of her favorite parts of making the map was that she could include whatever she wanted. “In addition to the active schools in town, I noticed so many cool buildings that used to be schools, and drew in all of the ones I found. There are lots of little seemingly random little "easter eggs" scattered around, too, mostly nods to old Hoboken history, like the Stahl Soap Factory. See what else you can find…”
Little City Books is at 100 Bloomfield Street, Hoboken, New Jersey.
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