SPHERE AND THERE

Written by root. Posted in FEATURES

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Published on April 27, 2016 with No Comments

The art of handmade globemaking is alive and thriving in North London.

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Credit: Tom Bunning

Words EMMA RAMSAY
Images BELLERBY & CO

The tube doesn’t serve Stoke Newington, a city of about 10 kilometres north of London; but for those willing to train it (from London Liverpool Street) or bus it (67, 73, 76, 106, 149, 243 and 393 stop outside Abney Park), you’ll find yourself in one of London’s leafiest boroughs and among a unique bohemian community.

But that’s not all Stoke Newington (Stokey to the locals) is known for. Down a mews off Stoke Newington Church Street (London’s longest street name) – a lovely street filled with boutiques, flower shops, vintage stores, patisseries and cafes – sits an unassuming building. Stand long enough outside and you’ll find about 20 to 30 workers going in and out at any given time. Among them: furniture makers, a handbag designer, architects, art directors, journalists and painters. The scene makes for a good Arthur Conan Doyle premise but, the reality is even more intriguing. This is the epicentre and final bastion of one of the few globemakers left in the world – Bellerby & Co.

Despite the flurry of activities on the outside, the workshop – a big beautiful open space and full of light – is a study in quiet focus and preservation. There is a small team of six busily working daily at various stations. Everyone comes from diverse creative and artistic backgrounds. All around them are half-made worlds, finished globes waiting to be mounted, strips of gore (painted paper) pegged across the room to dry, pots of brushes and paints, and more odd-sized spherical balls than one has ever seen.

The workshop is now a bit chilly, but come summer, the studio opens into a rooftop terrace and becomes a place to mingle after work. The high ceilings and huge windows make for a beautiful and inspiring setting. Everyone is very friendly with each other and collaborates on projects from time to time. The camaraderie is unmistakable. They borrow things from each other, ask opinions on their work and exchange advice on the best way to do something.

Amidst this friendly atmosphere sits Peter Bellerby, a kind of Jedi Master to his team of Padawans. A self-starter, Bellerby had no interest in globemaking other than his high school fascination for maps and cartography. But a frustrated quest trying to gift his father the perfect globe for his birthday would change all that. Faced with the option of a lazy version of a globe, where Borneo island appears as a blob on the map, or an antique that has long passed its use, Bellerby decided the way to go was to build his own globe. That was in 2008.

Today, the globes made by Bellerby & Co are valued for its bespoke design, modelled on a couple made in the War for Churchill and Roosevelt, and meticulous attention to detail. It takes pride in having revolutionised a globe design that sits on roller bearings, allowing for fluid movement that was not possible with the traditional axle and meridian methods. Every bit – from the painstaking process of papering to the detailed shading and painting – is done by hand. The former is the most arduous part because working with wet paper requires you to train your body and move your hands very slowly – ensuring there are no creases, overlaps or tear. If any of that happens, the goring process starts all over again. It’s easy to understand why a trainee normally requires a good half of the year to master this skill. And, it is not uncommon for the team to collaborate especially when it’s a big project.

Bellerby remains very hands-on with the craft and the business. He trains his team to re-learn parts of globemaking that had been lost for centuries. He passes on the lessons his learnt so that this limited edition craft continues. For even after all this while, there remains no available training on this artisanal trade.

In a world where GPS and Google maps seemed to have taken over, Bellerby & Co’s globes are a pleasant reminder that handcrafted globes remain in existence, letting us to daydream of faraway places and romanticise this world of ours.

Royal Brunei Airlines flies London daily via Dubai.

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