Making maps for fun, and to save lives

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- It might surprise you, but when you hear the sound of an emergency vehicles siren, you could think about the quiet of an art studio and the patient painting of David Nuttall.

Since he was five years old he's been making maps for fun.  He'll tell you all the maps are of fictitious places, but all the things that go on any map are included in David's art maps.

To say David is a map fanatic is a bit of an understatement. Even when he's on vacation at the beach he's making large sand sculptures that resemble maps. There are photos that show him smiling in the background.

For him, making maps is part of his life, and even the fun maps have been a means to an end.  They helped him get his first job. "I took a bunch of them to an interview when I went to work for the British government, and I was amazed that they thought that was a good thing for drawing maps in the military, but they did," said David.

Most of his maps these days are still drawn for arts' sake. He and his wife Jody, another artist, share a studio on the 3rd Floor at Huntsville's Lowe Mill. While David is a serious artist, he's also a serious consultant for 911 Emergency systems. "I help them making their map more up to date and easier to use," said David.

That's exactly what he did on a recent assignment for Hexagon Safety and Infrastructure in Cleveland. David is a contractor for Hexagon. "There's a lot of data. There's a lot of information that has to be displayed and it's not always in the right format and so you have to massage it, configure it and play with it, and then explain it to someone else," said David Nuttall.

Making the 911 systems better is the obvious goal, and a ride with a police officer was an eye-opener. "They're driving 60 miles an hour and glancing at a screen, and I rode with them and said, Oh, you don't have enough street names. Ten minutes later I fixed it, put more street names on it and they went, 'Oh!' They had no idea what to ask for, just took me riding with them. So, I knew I had improved their work," said David.

He'll tell you his art has made him better at his work with 911 systems, but he won't say his work saves lives. He will tell you what's rewarding when he's finished with an assignment. "They don't need me anymore. That's really rewarding because I know they've learned enough, they've understood enough, they can make their maps...frequently updated...and they don't need my help," said David.

Of course if they do need David Nuttall, he's not hard to find. He'll usually be in the studio, drawing a map.