The Mysterious Life of Jerry's Map

In the 1960s, Jerry Gretzinger began drawing a fantastical, growing map of unbelievable scope. Now it takes up almost 2,000 8" x 10" frames.

Before Sim City or FarmVille, there was Jerry's map. In the 1960s, Jerry Gretzinger began drawing a fantastical, growing map of unbelievable scope. It began with just a doodle, but now it takes up almost 2,000 8" x 10" frames. Drawing from a randomized deck of playing cards and a complex system of rules, he paints and repaints frames so that the map evolves continuously over decades. 

His meticulous, iterative process intrigued documentary filmmaker Gregory Whitmore, who created this portrait of Gretzinger about two years ago. Very few people saw Mapping the Void, also known as Jerry's Map, until Vimeo's Staff Picks blog discovered it this summer. Now the video has over 80,000 views, and dozens of comments from fans. Gretzinger posted his reaction on his blog in August, writing, "Wow! Thanks, Vimeo!" 

Minecraft fans have also picked up on the parallel to their game, in which they build terrain on a fixed grid from different resources. It's an "open world" or "sandbox" game, where users have the autonomy to explore and change the world of the game as they go. Now they are working on developing a Minecraft version of the map, complete with the same rules and randomization, coordinating via a Reddit thread called "Jerry's mod."

Gretzinger shares his rules and cards, which are also constantly evolving, on his blog too. He explains, "I tell people that it is like painting the Golden Gate Bridge -- it's never finished." He has made signed prints of various sections available on eBay.

Whitmore explains that in a way, the map is a "perfect painting"  because "it doesn't tell you how far away to stand." It's as compelling from close up as from far away. To date, it's so large that Gretzinger hasn't been able to find a space that can properly display it in its entirety. In the opening shot of this film, you see just a small section of it. Hopefully the new wave of enthusiasm for the project will help him find the perfect space.

Meanwhile, he wants to create an online version of the entire map, recently writing, "I figured out how, with the help of my Open Office software, to set up this grid and load scans into it. Hurray! This was a big breakthrough for me. Now if someone will just set up a similar grid on the Internet we can begin to assemble the whole map there." 

Whitmore has continued to follow the story, so if we're lucky, we might get to see a feature documentary some day.

For more films by Gregory Whitmore, visit

Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.

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