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modern map maker

January 1, 2017


North Carolina artist and architect Karen M. O’Leary creates modern city maps with an x-acto knife or pen.

The artist & owner: Born in Seoul, South Korea, O’Leary grew up in Pennsylvania She graduated with a degree in architecture from Virginia Tech, where she first made a hand-cut map as part of her fifth year architecture thesis. After graduation, while working in New York City, she made a hand-cut map for herself. It was six feet by eight feet and took nine months to complete. In 2009, she listed the NYC map on, sold it — and unintentionally started a business.

The company: Studio KMO, based in Charlotte, started in 2009 and sells custom maps of favorite cities and places. It offers three collections: handcrafted maps of any city or location, ink drawings, and city-pressed prints.

The hand-cut process: Once ordered, the paper maps are hand-cut, block by block . Cutting them by hand allows O’Leary the opportunity to design and customize each one.

What’s popular: The 10-inch by 10-inch original maps ($125 to $175). Some of the most requested cities include: Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, New York City and Paris.

Other favorites: City-pressed prints, the newest collection ($36 per city).

Most time-consuming city map cut: London. The blocks are irregular and dense, unlike any other.

Big break: Featured in Oprah’s O Magazine (2014) and a 2016 finalist in Garden & Gun magazine’s “Made in the South Awards.”

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