Peter Bellerby went looking for something special for his father’s 80th birthday: a handmade globe. Much to his surprise, they were in short supply, or more accurately, endangered. The only specimens he could scratch up were frail antiques. Out of luck but undeterred, Bellerby opted for an ambitious next step—learning how to make his own.
Years later, Bellerby owns and operates what he says is the one of just two handmade globe studios in the world. London-based Bellerby and Co. Globemakers has delivered their worlds to individual collectors, art installations, and Hollywood films like Hugo. Bellerby's shop even has the distinction of producing the Royal Geographical Society's first-ever exhibition dedicated to globes.
How did Bellerby go from knowing next to nothing about handmade globes to almost singlehandedly carrying on its craft? His answer: It wasn’t nearly as simple a process as he'd originally thought. As he writes on his site, the venture was plagued with problems from the get-go.
First, he had to license a map to reproduce on his globes. Things quickly went south from there. He ended up with a second-rate map that was plagued with inaccuracies. ("Don't let me start on the Aral Sea.") It would have taken about a year, he says, to rectify the template and the misspellings. After a relatively painless introduction to Illustrator, he then contracted a programmer friend to develop a code that could transfer his maps onto spheres. All was in order, it seemed—until the friend was abruptly reassigned to Lahore and forced to leave the project.
Without much choice, Bellerby had to troubleshoot the process himself: "The whole way of making anything using a sphere ... is fraught with different problems and issues because you’re multiplying every area by pi," he explains. "Ultimately, it came down to working out how to put strips of paper onto a sphere."
That took a year and a half of tests, including the arduous search for a perfectly round casting mold—then not finding one and ultimately having to work with a fabricator to produce it.
Finally, everything was in place. Bellerby and his team have been crafting meticulously detailed globes ever since. The care they put into the product is clear, from the hand-painted maps to the carefully applied and smoothed hand-cut strips, with a commitment to keeping the work on globes to a decidedly non-global scale. "I don’t want to get outside PR and marketing, I don’t want to get external companies facilitating things," Bellerby says. "As much as I can, we do everything in-house. I prefer it to grow organically and to be something that we all are a part of."