Map Maker Molly Brown on Community and Creating a Sense of Belonging

Peruse prints of Brown’s work in her gallery in South Portland.
Watercolor is added to woodcut monoprints for a bright, hand-crafted aesthetic.
Brown's 100-foot, coastal themed mural in the Stevens Square Community Center.
Brown's 100-foot, coastal themed mural in the Stevens Square Community Center.

“I returned home to Maine after being out west for a decade, knowing very clearly that if I wanted to pursue expressing myself [for a living], this was the place I had to be to do it,” says artist and map maker Molly Brown, founder of MollyMaps. “Not only because Maine is the watery, blue/green landscape that I need, but also because I had a hunch I’d find an encouraging and supportive community here.” Brown grew up in Orono, studied geography at Middlebury College in Vermont, and went on to earn a Ph.D. in Human Geography from the University of Colorado Boulder. In her interview with MH+D Inside Out, she talks about her process and the support system she found in her home state. 

Q. What sparked your interest in maps, and do you have a favorite map that you’ve created?

A. While I was always a kid who loved to explore outside and also to draw, the actual map focus didn’t manifest until I took a geography class in college. My favorite map is the one that creates the most sense of belonging for the most people. Right now it is between Living in Portland, A View of Where We Live, or the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust painting.

Q. Tell us about your print-making process.

A. Most commonly I make monoprints with relief block printing, and then add watercolor and additional print layers. Having never been formally trained in print-making, my approach has always felt very experimental—seeing what happens when various methods are combined and different materials used. I’m open to using anything to solve the design problems in my head.

Q. You’ve spent a large chunk of your career working in art and environmental education in schools. What advice do you have to get children interested in geography and maps?

A. Let them draw/paint/act out/build their own special places, real or imagined. Then, truly listen to them, and go there with them. 

Q. Do you have any large-form projects that you are working on right now?

A. My hallway-long mural at the Stevens Square Community Center in Portland is definitely the largest form I’ve ever done!

Q. What’s your favorite place in Maine? 

A. Impossible to tell you. Old spots like Bald Mountain in Dedham bring back my childhood, new spots like Mount Abrams in Greenwood feel invigorating, and the ones I’m in day-to-day, like the trail along Great Pond in Cape Elizabeth, keep me sane.

Q. Who has helped you along the way? 

A. I’m grateful to several people who noticed my work and helped create opportunities for me to grow at a pace that would work for me as a nearly full-time mom. Kate Anker got me going with a studio at Running With Scissors, Karen Burke at k colette (a high-end home goods store that closed in 2018) walked me through starting my first wholesale account, and Beth Van Mierlo at SidexSide offered me a teaching artist path. The way these women—and so many other people around the state—noticed my unique path and encouraged me to continue is the reason I needed to be back in Maine. We can lift each other up. With new projects and an expanding business, I now hope to do the same. 

Q. What is your favorite thing to do in Maine that involves the state’s natural resources?

A. Being in the cool, clear water—whether surfing it, swimming it, snorkeling it, paddling it, or just floating in it!