The Pictorial Maps of Frank M. Antoncich


In 1922 in the town of Virginia, Minnesota, approximately 200 miles north of the twin cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul, a printing and lithography firm, W. A. Fisher Company, was established.  The firm, which continues in business to this day, began producing, in the mid-1930s, a series of pictorial maps of the region created by a talented home-grown cartographer named Frank M. Antoncich.  This brief essay aims to establish Antoncich among other, better known, pictorial mapmakers of the 1930s.   


In the 19th century the economic foundation of Virginia and environs was based on lumbering; however, in the early 20th century, the forest industry was displaced by the opening of the giant open pit mines on the Mesabi Iron Ore Range. These mines were served by lengthy open-hopper freight trains that hauled the product to Duluth for transport on the Great Lakes. While proving a boon to the local economy, the massive earth-scarring mines created a stark and indelible contrast to the beautiful lakes and forests that distinguish the countryside north and west of Virginia. 


 Mesaba Postcard



This pristine environment was the habitat of abundant wildlife and the ancestral home of the Chippewa or Anishinaabe[i]; from the mid-1930s forward, the region became the chief focus of Antoncich’s pictorial map-making.  No doubt Antoncich was drawn to the area’s natural beauty, as well to as to the hunting, fishing, and recreational opportunities the land and its lakes afforded. While his maps make clear Antoncich’s deep attachment to Minnesota’s lake country, a commercial imperative also prevailed, for many of the maps were produced as souvenirs, attractive “take-home” items for tourists and vacationers, or were utilized to illustrate brochures promoting the region.


Dori Griffin, in her book “Mapping Wonderlands,” refers to Frank Antoncich in the context of pictorial mapmakers of the last century, observing that “because these illustrators, and others like them, were essentially commercial artists, little survives in the way of a comprehensive record of their work.  Even less is known of their lives and careers.”[ii]  This is certainly the case with Frank Antoncich.  What limited information has been gleaned from archival sources establishes that Antoncich was born on March 17, 1906.  As a teenager he attended the College of St. Benedict & St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, in their College Preparatory School—essentially the equivalent of the junior and senior years of high school—and that he graduated at age 17 in June 1923. 


Three years later, on April 6, 1926, the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper reported that 20 year old Antoncich, in his third year at the Cleveland School of Art, had been awarded first place in the newspaper’s talent contest for drawing the best Geauga County [Ohio] Seal.  His prize was $50.00 in gold provided by the Chardon Kiwanis Club and the Geauga County Farm Bureau.  The article provides useful biographical information.

           [Antoncich's] uncle, John Michelcic, with whom he lives is helping him through [the school of art].
           It is in his uncle's grocery store that Antoncich works after school and on Saturdays; sometimes
           behind the counter, sometimes in the Ford delivering.  Ely, Minn., ten miles from the Canadian line,
           is his home.  His mother, two brothers and two sisters live there.  His father was killed in an ore
           mine accident eleven years ago.

           His art training before coming here, he said, consisted of map sketching in grammar school, a 
           little cast drawing in St. John's university - a Junior College there [Minnesota] - and a good deal
           of sketching at home.

           "What am I going to do with the Prize?  I'll send it to my mother," he said last night.  "She's not
           so well off."[iii]


The next available biographical information comes from Census Records for 1940;  Antoncich, age 34 and unmarried, had established his map-making career and had settled in Virginia, Minnesota (headquarters of map publisher W. A. Fisher Company) with his mother, a younger brother Anthony, age 26, and a 21 year old woman, a niece of the mother’s.  Additional records document that Antoncich served in the US Army and was stationed at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey between the years 1943, 1944, and 1945, attaining the rank of Staff Sergeant, and that he died at the age of 88 on July 26, 1994 and was buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis. 


It is evident that Antoncich’s artistic skills were advanced at St. John’s, where instruction in drawing, based on casts made from classic sculpture, was part of the curriculum.  It is also possible that training in map-making was part of his St. John’s studies as well, as course work in topographical drawing was offered in the years that Antoncich was a student, but this latter possibility is entirely conjectural.  This leaves us with the maps that Antoncich created, and the library records (WorldCat) that document some, but certainly not all, of Antoncich’s cartographic endeavors.


Likely the earliest of Antoncich’s maps was that of St. Louis County, Minnesota, created for the St. Louis County Club in 1935.  St. Louis County is huge, comprising 6860 square miles (a figure at odds with that cited by Antoncich on his map) and extending from Duluth in the south to the Canadian border in the north.  The map features compositional elements that Antoncich would utilize throughout his career: reliance on primary colors; red, blue, yellow, as defining features, with accents in green, brown and black; colorful cartoon figures of persons and animals, and sites of historical interest. The lakes of the county are featured prominently with leaping fish and persons disporting themselves in canoes and wooden boats. Icons representing the extensive forest-lands are a strong presence, with attention given to Indian mounds, wild rice sites, and other aspects of Native American life.  Geological features are pictorially represented: the Continental Divide and the Mesaba Iron Range, while text provides copious information on recreational activities, industry, historical events, and more. 


(View the map at:


What is most intriguing, Antoncich provides a cartoon representation of himself at the bottom left corner of the map, with inkpot at his feet and an artist’s paint-brush in his hand. He portrays himself as dark-haired, somewhat stocky, sporting a mustache, and a serious, unsmiling mien.  He stands next to a banner with text venerating St. Louis County, describing it as “the most romantic vacation spot on the whole outdoor map.”  His “Cartomap,” as he terms it, is a delightful production, colorful, compositionally engaging, humorous, and informative—a map that warrants close examination for all it has to offer.


Interestingly, 1935 was the same year that saw the publication of the widely-distributed book “Our U.S.A. A Gay Geography,” a collection of colorful pictorial maps created by Ruth Taylor (White).  Taylor’s cartoon images of persons and animals may have provided a useful guide for Antoncich as he set about designing and populating his St. Louis County map.


 Ruth Taylor White detail



Certainly the map’s title-banner reflects that used on Taylor’s maps in her identification of individual states, while the rounded heads of Antoncich’s cartoon figures might be seen as echoing the emphatically circular heads employed by Taylor in her creations.  However, Antoncich, unlike Taylor, is given to far greater textual commentary on this and later maps, providing information pertaining to the region’s history as well as contemporary factual information of interest to viewers.  Indeed, it is his emphasis on the region’s history that distinguishes Antoncich as a map-maker: he is profoundly interested in using his maps to communicate aspects of Northern Minnesota’s past, particularly as this relates to the Chippewa.


Perhaps the most useful way of shaping an appreciation of Antoncich’s pictorial maps is by giving close focus to several of the maps he created in the late 30s and 1940, prior to the outbreak of war.  A number of these maps were subsequently reissued, but with results less satisfying than the initial offering.


Kabetogama Lake


Map title: Kabetogama Lake


Less than 30 miles southeast of the border community of International Falls, Minnesota, is Kabetogama Lake, focus of Antoncich’s engaging 1936 pictorial map (reissued in 1951 and 1975)[iii].  As was the case with many of Antoncich’s maps, it was published by W. A. Fisher Company in a process emphasizing, as was the case with his St. Louis County map, primary colors.  Text and an arrow at the bottom of the map, positioned below Route 53, indicate Virginia as being 80 miles southeast of Kabetogama Lake. The map, approximately 12 x 20 inches, is printed on heavy paper stock and features, in the upper right corner, the image of an unfolding scroll containing the title of the map and brief text elucidating a key element in Antoncich’s creative process: “Kabetogama Lake has been drawn as accurately as possible from government maps.  The historical information has been gleaned from guides, trappers and natives who have spent much time within its borders.  It is believed to be accurate.”  Below the scroll there appears, as was the case with the St. Louis County map, a whimsical image that makes the map especially relevant in introducing Antoncich’s work—a cartoon representation of the map-maker himself. 


Antoncich self portait det 


Unlike the earlier image, however, this one depicts an individual of very different mien.  He appears, pen in hand, feathers in his hair (likely honoring the Chippewa) grinning broadly, as if amused by his own creation.


Beneath the cartoon image of the artist is the following text: “Cartomap by F. Antoncich.” From the St. Louis map forward, Antoncich employed the self-invented term “Cartomap” in identifying his work—perhaps seeking an amalgam of “cartoon” and “map”—certainly a defining characteristic of his work.  The map features cartoon images of the indigenous Chippewa; also depicted are Indian burial grounds, villages, rice fields, etc.  The Caucasian populace is comprised chiefly of—occasionally blundering—hunters, fisherman, or tourists, while animals—beaver, moose, deer, bear, etc.—recreate themselves and fish are shown leaping from the water.   Text on the map conveys tidbits of historical fact and fiction, while highways dominate the land southwest of the lake and portage trails appear as dotted lines in the more pristine country north of the lake.


Antoncich’s visual humor is inherently good-natured, never mean-spirited: a Chippewa paddles a canoe with a Victrola playing in its bow; a deer employs its hooves to kick a human intruder out of a game reserve; a beaver utilizes a surveying instrument to construct a dam, a woman bather waves from the lake to persons viewing the map while, flying across the sky at the top of the map, a pontoon aircraft towing a canoe is shown.  The map is attractive, informative, and whimsical, and provides an abiding appreciation for this attractive world remote from the stress and congestion of city life.


 Lake Vermilion map


Map title: Beautiful Lake Vermilion


In 1938 W. A. Fisher produced a brochure titled “Beautiful Lake Vermilion,” located approximately half an hour’s drive north of Virginia, which featured a large color map by Antoncich.  The folded brochure, approximately 8 ½ x 3 ½ inches, unfolds to a sheet 17 x 22 inches that is dominated by Antoncich’s colorful map of the lake and environs. He populates the map with tourists, hunters, fishermen, and the Chippewa, not to mention moose, deer, mallards and leaping fish. Women are present only in the automobiles that ply the roads leading to the “Modern resorts, cabins, and summer homes [which] dot the shores of Lake Vermillion.” In the title block at lower left, beneath the image of a Chippewa with headdress, Antoncich writes: “Lake Vermilion has 365 islands, 1200 miles of shore line…over 40 miles east to west.”  An inset map is positioned on the bottom left corner of the map, showing the highway routes to the lake from Chicago and the Twin Cities.


While the map of Kabetogama Lake was essentially a souvenir item, the Lake Vermilion map served that function and much more: positioned below the map are eight advertisements, illustrated with black and white photographs, for Lake Vermilion’s “leading summer resorts” and topped with the instruction, printed in large letters: “Write Direct To These Leading Summer Resorts For Folders And Rates.”  (Clearly—phone service was not an option.)  The resorts advertise a variety of inducements to vacationers and sportsmen: “Hay Fever Relief,” “Native White Guides,” “Inner-spring Mattresses” “Daily Mail Service,”—plus the coded terms “Restricted” or “Selected” Clientele.  Paragraphs on verso of the map tout the glories (“None Lovelier”) of the lake and its various attractions—Fishing, Bathing, Boating, Hiking, etc.


Antoncich’s large color map is replete with information on the history of the region. He places particular emphasis, in text and image, on the Chippewa, their villages, burial sites, rice fields etc.  He also points out the relationship between the Indians and early fur traders, a relationship he viewed as beneficial to both.  He writes at one point “Fur trading as a big business ended about 1847.  It had lasted over a century.  Early traders had a high quality of courage and…were at home with the Indian.”  At another point he states “Lake Vermilion is called Sah-Ga-Fe-Gum-Wah-Ma-Mah-Nee by native Chippewa Indians, meaning the Lake of the Sunset Glow.”  His cartoon figures and commentary relating to the Chippewa appear, for the era, remarkably free of condescension or bias. 


 Leech Lake


Map title: Cartomap Leech Lake Minnesota


About 120 miles southwest of Virginia, in the Chippewa National Forest, is Leech Lake, the subject of Antoncich’s 1940 map.  Approximately 17 x 22 inches, the map returns to the “souvenir” format of the Kabetogama Lake map; that is, devoid of advertising relating to the lakes’ resorts or tourist cabins.  However, on a subsequent edition of the map, the lakeside is marked by close to 100 small red dots, each linked to the name of a resort, lodge, or hotel.  This iteration of the map was presumably made available to the public at each of these vacation or hunting lodge destinations.


As with Antoncich’s earlier projects, the 1940 map is rich in historical information.  He observes at one point: “Records reveal that the Indians moved into the Leech Lake area about 1722,” while at another: “The first [white] tourists to Leech Lake came about 1905.”  Elsewhere he reports that “The Northwest Fur Co. Trading Post was active during the late 1700s and 1800s” while, in close proximity, he lists the 1833 inventory of a fur trader named Davenport, detailing the number of pelts on hand and their costs.  The list includes Muskrat, Bear, Otter, Mink, Beaver, Raccoon, Fox and more.  Antoncich also records that “Brunet, a French trader in Leech Lake area in 1833 recorded an Indian population of about 781.”  He lists, at another point, the Indian names for several islands in the lake, names evidently assigned when “Me-shah-wah-see in his birch bark canoe visited Leech Lake about 1722.”  Additional illustrations, with text pertaining to the Chippewa, include an Indian village visited by the ethnologist and explorer Henry Schoolcraft in 1822, sites of Indian burial grounds, areas of wild rice, portage routes, etc.  Antoncich also records the fact that “In 1898, on Sugar Point, there was a battle between Indians and U.S. Troops,” an event often referred to as the last Indian uprising in the United States.


 Leech Lake detail


In close proximity to the map’s title Antoncich offers additional explanatory text documenting his research in connection with the map, writing:  “Cartomap…showing Leech Lake and Vicinity with Roads to Resorts and Historical Data Pertinent to the Lake.  Historical information taken from files of the Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.”


 Virginia Minnesota


Map title: Vacation Headquarters


It would be fitting to turn to a map that, in its design, summarizes certain of the realities that mark Antoncich’s career as a “commercial artist.” The central feature of a brochure titled “Virginia Minnesota the Queen City of the Arrowhead” is a map (16 x 9 inches) with the title “Vacation Headquarters.” This map is a remarkable in that it is a “repurposing” of the map that marked the inception of Antoncich’s career—­the St. Louis County Map of 1935.  The brochure dates from 1959, based on text relating to the new Lookout Mountain Ski Center.  Whether Antoncich had a hand in this revisionist production is not known, but certainly it can be regarded as a discomfiting event occurring late in his career. In this reincarnation, published some 25 years after the original, many features of the 1935 map remain, while others are missing altogether.  It is the missing features that make the map a most striking production.  The title-banner at the top of the map, initially inscribed “St. Louis County Minnesota,” has been altered to read “Vacation Headquarters,” while a black arrow at the map’s center points to Virginia, “Queen City of the Arrowhead.”  Antoncich’s text in the scroll at the bottom of the 1935 map, in which he refers to the county as “the most romantic vacation spot on the whole outdoor map,” has been retained, but gone is the cartoon image of Antoncich that appeared on the original, as well as his name as cartographer adjacent to it.  In this iteration, the map has become an anonymous production; its maker, in both text and image, have been purged—an unceremonious coda at the end of the mapmaker’s long career. 


It is hoped this brief essay will provide useful documentation regarding a number of Frank Antoncich’s creative efforts, as well as prove helpful in establishing a more secure niche for him among the galaxy of pictorial cartographers of the 1930s and beyond.




Although unsigned, the artwork on this 1942 Fisher brochure very likely represents, on a grand scale, the cartoon figures of Frank Antoncich.


Minnesota Arrowhead 


© Craig Clinton, Portland, Oregon                                                                                     February 2015


Summary of WorldCat (Library) Holdings


Beautiful Lake Vermillion

            Editions: 1938 (3 holdings) and 1955 (2 holdings)

Map of Alexandria Lake Region in Minnesota

            Editions: 1939 (2 holdings)

Cartomap Leech Lake, Minnesota: showing Leech Lake and Vicinity with Roads to Resorts and Historical Data Pertinent to the Lake

            Editions: 1940 (2 holdings)

St. Louis County, Minnesota

            Edition: 1935 (2 holdings)

Kabetogama Lake

            Edition: 1936 (2 holdings)

Pehrson Lodge—On Beautiful Lake Vermilion etc.

            Edition: (194?) (1 holding)

Cartomap Brainerd Lake Region in Minnesota, etc.

            Edition: 1940 (1 holding)

Map, Itasca State Park, Minnesota, Showing Lake Itasca, Source of the Mississippi River, etc.

            Edition: 1938 (1 holding)

Cartomap of Detroit Lakes Golf Course

            Editions: 1955?  1961?  (1 holding)



            Additional Titles (or Editions) of Antoncich Maps Not Found in WorldCat

                     (These are the titles that appear on the map, as opposed to the title of the

                                                brochure featuring the map)


Cartomap Cass Lake Minnesota Showing Cass, Andrusia, and other Lakes in the Vicinity with Historical Data Pertinent to the Area

            Copyright 1941. W.A. Fisher


Cartomap Cass Lake Minnesota Showing Cass, Andrusia, Winnibigoshish and Other Lakes in that Vicinity with Historical Data Pertinent to the Area

            Copyright 1941. W.A. Fisher

            This map depicts a greater area than the first title.


Map Itasca State Park Minnesota Showing Lake Itasca—Source of the Mississippi River—Douglas Lodge on Lake Itasca—Historical Data Pertinent to the Park

            Copyright 1939.  W.A. Fisher


Cartomap Leech Lake Minnesota Showing Leech Lake and Vicinity with Lakes, Roads and Historical Data Pertinent to the Area 

            Copyright 1959 W.A. Fisher “Pertinent to the Lake” completes the title on the       1940 Antoncich map featuring Leech Lake. This map is larger and depicts greater     terrain than that detailed on the “Pertinent to the Lake” map, and many cartoon images have been repositioned.)


Vacation Headquarters. 

            Circa 1959.  W. A. Fisher







[ii] Dori Griffin. “Mapping Wonderlands.”  Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press; 2013.  p. 7.

[iii]  I am indebted to Dr. Mark Bassett of the Cleveland Institute of Art who contacted me regarding this newspaper item, which he discovered in the process of research he was undertaking.  The citation for the clipping is: “Boy Worker Wins Geauga’s Award. Splashes Red on His Design; Goes to Art School, at Nights He’s Grocer.” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 6, 1926. p. 14.  CIA scrapbook 9:155.

[iv] In his engaging book, "Minnesota on the Map: A Historical Atlas" (Minnesota Historical Society: 2008) author David A. Lanegran writes (p. 182) that Antoncich was associated with W. A. Fisher Company "between 1939 and 1955"; however, this map and others demonstrate an association that dates from the mid-thirties.  Also, the Leech Lake Cartomap with the title ending “Pertinent to the Area,” covering a wider area than the 1940 Leech Lake map, is copyright 1959 by Fisher.