ODT’s proportionate world maps find a fan in ‘Don the donor’

  • Bob Abramms, right, founder of ODT Maps in Amherst, holds a cartogram showing the relative populations of the world’s countries to visitors to his office, including teachers Carl and Amy Cyr, at left, on July 27, as he was giving away much of his stock for free. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Bob Abramms, founder of ODT Maps in Amherst, talks about his inventory of unusual maps like this “Latin America as Seen from Cuba” on Tuesday, July 27. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Bob Abramms, right, founder of ODT Maps in Amherst, talks to Frontier Regional physical education teacher Carl Cyr, left, and Hampshire Regional history teacher Amy Cyr about the kinds of maps and materials that they could use in their classrooms as Abramms gave away much of his stock for free on Tuesday, July 27. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

For the Gazette
Monday, August 09, 2021

AMHERST — Tucked away at the back of a North Pleasant Street property is a small wooden A-frame building with the letters “ODT” hanging from the roof. Inside, the back wall is made up of a series of wooden boxes, many of which hold stacks of folded maps or paper manuals explaining how to understand the cartography.

The structure is the workspace of Bob Abramms, who founded ODT Maps in the early ’80s, a company that recently dissolved and is currently donating its maps and materials to local libraries, businesses and mission groups.

Despite the ODT’s end, its work has recently garnered some new attention from an anonymous donor, affectionately nicknamed “Don the donor” by Abramms.

The donor started out as a customer, originally commissioning Abramms last October for two specially made 8-foot-wide Hobo-Dyer world maps, a map design partially created by Abramms in the early 2000s (the “bo” in Hobo-Dyer stands for “Bob”).

The idea of the Hobo-Dyer design is to represent all land masses proportionately.

“Africa is shown as being the same size as Greenland,” said Abramms while holding up a traditional map. “But it’s actually 14 times larger. So, this is the way that we have had our minds warped.”

According to Abramms, the global south has historically appeared disproportionately small in most maps.

“People generally focused historically on Europe with the Northern Hemisphere and put that in the center,” he said. “They expanded the size of Europe, and they used projections and mathematical formulas that reduced or compressed the global south.”

Abramms’ anonymous donor also recognized this disparity. In fact, he decided to buy the copyright to the Hobo-Dyer map, which presents the land proportionately and instead distorts shape.

The first time that Abramms met the donor was on a Zoom call between the two of them and several members of the donor’s staff. When Abramms’ joined the Zoom call, he realized that many of the staff members had his maps in the background of their offices.

“I started to choke up a little bit,” Abramms said.

The donor went on to speak about his appreciation for Abramms’ work.

“In the middle of him talking to me and appreciating me, it hit me that this guy’s been a fan of mine,” Abramms said.

The donor plans to use the copyright for the public good, according to Abramms. He plans to translate it into eight languages and create versions with both north and south on top. He also plans to make it available online, copyright-free.

The donor bought the copyright for $50,000, according to Abramms, which left ODT with the remainder of its maps and materials to give away.

“I made good for what I was going to sell it for,” he said. “Now we have all this stuff to donate to mission education groups.”

ODT has gotten national recognition before the donor stepped in, too. The Hobo-Dyer map was used by former President Jimmy Carter, after he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, to display the places across the world where the Carter Institute had done work. One of ODT’s maps was also featured on an episode of  the TV show “The West Wing.”

Abramms found a way to give back to the people who supported ODT throughout its many years of operation. He created a “gratitude list,” which listed the people and groups that he was grateful to. He sent it out as part of his newsletter and asked people to donate $25 or more to one of the groups in exchange for any of his products.

“We’ve been shipping out stuff like crazy,” Abramms said. “I paid for the postage. This is my ability to say thank you to the people that did work for me, without any money.”

For Abramms, ODT wasn’t about making a profit.

“Bob never did this for money,” said his wife, Mona Naimark, a co-designer of the Hobo-Dyer map. “That was the interesting thing. Some years he would make tons of money as a speaker, and other years, just enough to keep it going.”

According to Naimark, ODT was all about changing perspectives by finding new ways to represent the world.

“Basically, it was all about extending this beautiful, incredible change that people could have,” Naimark said.