America the Beautiful

customImage  Stella displays her masterpiece—50 perfectly shaped states pieced together to create an American map.


Stella displays her masterpiece—50 perfectly shaped states pieced together to create an American map.

Have you ever wondered how the states got their shapes? When looking at a map of America, one sees a remarkable variety of shapes and sizes. Some states like Texas and California are immediately identifiable; others like Wyoming and Colorado look almost identical. While the history behind each state’s shape is the product of factors such as geographic boundaries, the construction of railroads, political controversies, and the American Revolution, one thing is clear: the outline of every state is unique, and, in many cases, quite complex. The History Channel even had a TV series called “How the States Got Their Shapes.”


No one knows this better at MSA than senior Design/Build student, Stella Ma. Over the past semester, she has carefully carved each state out of wood and pieced them together to create a political map of America. Paying attention to every twist and turn of each state, she created a masterpiece that is a marvel to behold.

Stella commented, “I knew that I wanted to create something complex and challenging for my final senior project to end my three years of study in Design/Build. I saw a beautiful wooden American map on the internet, and I was stunned. I thought maybe this could be my final work.”  


She began the project by drafting the map in Google SketchUp. This allowed her to see ahead of time the complexity of each state and the challenge of piecing each individual piece together into a map.

Stella recalled: “It was harder than I thought. I had to cut 48 states with the miter saw, and it required me to be precise enough to match the states around them. It took me four months to finish this big map.”


Over the past three years, Stella has established herself as one of the most accomplished woodworkers at the school. Her portfolio includes a wide-range of projects that highlight both her talents as a visionary artist as well as her precise skills with the tools of her craft.

Stella’s mentor and teacher, Mr. Hanson, commented: “Stella did an excellent job completing this project which took a lot of skill and patience. She's self-driven, creative, and skilled–displaying a level of craftsmanship that isn't often found in a high school wood shop.”


US History teacher, Dave Riddick, commented: “While the shapes of America’s states are political and geographical, Stella Ma highlighted that the shape of America’s political map is also a work of art. Her senior project gives new life to the term ‘America the Beautiful’.”

Holding her masterpiece up for a photo, Stella considered the significance of her project: “I remember Mr. Hanson used to say, when you get old and look at these works you did, you can say that I did do something in my life. Yes, this American map will be my good memory, and I will remember the happy time I spent in the wood shop at the Miller School.”