The Mobile Bay Map Story

melissa-smith-artist-pitcher-plant-bogIt all started when I noticed that the map of Mobile Bay sold at the Lyons Share in Fairhope had become somewhat antiquated since 1971. With more research I recognized that it was very to a map done in 1950! Both are familiar pieces of memorabilia gracing many a local area wall.

So meeting a Fairhope local, Tom, (while in Boca Grande, Fl) is the very reason my eyes were opened to a part of the world I had never experienced. Tom is down right romantic about Baldwin County! I could never have been introduced to such unique area by a better person. Tom is an Organician, class of 73. As my tour begun I learned quickly that the “Four Way” (Greeno) was something I would need to negotiate on my own because we only traveled back roads together. I have twisted and turned down every red clay or county road you can imagine.

Listed are just a few of our adventures: Fox Squirrel viewing on Higbee Road, collecting wood from Gaillard Island (Mosquito frenzy), Henry Stuartʼs round house, exploring the waterways of Bayou La Batre with its marvelous rusty old nautical “stuff”, frolicking through blooming cotton, collecting pottery chards from Montrose, watching original Mobile Bricks being split in West Mobile, studying a fly in a Pitcher Plant at the bog, walking through the old kiln areas in Clay City, enjoying fried mullet backs, looking for civil war relics in the dunes outside Ft Morgan (before seeing the sign that disallows that practice now), touring an amazing Tug Boat at the State Docks, witnessing Jubilees, seeing Bruce Larsen and Stig Marcussen’s artwork at Thomas Hospital, meeting old Bay Shrimpers like “Fats”, experiencing the beautiful Delta…….

And all that is before I started this project!

Creating a new map was a perfect fit for me! “I” have now become romantic about South Coastal Alabama and all of its diversity. Particularly inspiring for me is where we live on Fly Creek. My studio is in an old Paddle Wheel boat named Pleasure Bay. She has a history of her own. While working on the map these past months countless boats of every variety float before my view. The Alligator Gar, creek birds and turtles delight me every day! Many times when I wondered about a particular shape or color of an element I was rendering I simply gazed out the window. One Day Jimbo Meador paddled up on one of his boards. I was working on my fish illustrations at the time. I said, “Jimbo, what would you say is the most important fish in the sea?” With little hesitation he replied, “Menhaden!” I wont go into all the reasons for that but there is a book by that very name (Most Important Fish In the Sea). Suffice is to say, that was enough for me, I put it on the map!

I worried over being correct when it came to our early indigenous inhabiters. My son had recently studied Alabama History. The books list the Historic period Indians we all know, like the Creek, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Choctaw, Muskogee…..and many others that migrated here. In the end I deferred to Donnie Barrett, our Fairhope Museum curator and Fairhope Tea Plantation Owner. Hence my reference to the Mississipian Period you will see on the upper left corner of my map

I had the opportunity to paint two crab forms for Jumpin Jubilee (Copa Public art event) last year in Fairhope. One of my crabs was titled “Steamer Crab” it featured some of the steam ship history on the bay in the early 1900ʼs. Thanks to Tomʼs mother Dot Yeager, a native with great reference materials, and our history museum I learned quite a bit about that period on the bay.

The many devoted environmental groups that work tirelessly to preserve and improve our waters and land here impress me to no end! I have tried to include some of them, but alas, there are many I could not. I pray at least one person will look up one of the organizations I have illustrated on my map and learns, donates or volunteers. My heart is grateful for all they do. Alabama is The 5th Most Biologically Diverse State in the U.S! Together we can all try to keep Alabama “Forever Wild”. Vote Yes!

Everyday I think of something I wished I had put on the map. I had to finally stop somewhere. But with the aid of computer technology and a couple brilliant operators of them…I can actually STILL do an art rendering of a business, boat, home or “other” and place it back into the map! Just ask.

I have tried to honor ʻsomeʼ history, nostalgia, geographical, environmental, flora, fauna, current day…There are things I included simply because I thought they were interesting or even because I needed to fill a small space. I personally visited most of the places or areas on the map and look greatly forward to experiencing them all!