Ripples 5/30/24

Ripples from the Archives, submitted by Nancy Nabak, communication coordinator

This colorful, thought-provoking, “The Language of Color” Ripples excerpt comes from the archives, circa June 1982, and is written by Irene I. Luethge. Enjoy!

“Color surrounds us, it influences our lives. Color is adventure, a collectible, a clue giver, a link backwards in history and time, a fashion setter, a bond with the earth and the life on it, a storehouse of 1,000 stories and more. There are the colors of sunrises and sunsets, the colors of the changing seasons, the colors in stages of growing things on the land, the changing colors of insects and birds and animal life, and the fluid colors of water.

…The use of colors extends back in time perhaps as much as 200,000 years. Its sources came from the earth, the life and growing things that depend on the earth. Ice Age man buried his dead in red ochre or panted those bones a red color; he had observed that the flow of red blood meant the difference between life and death and probably believed the red color was life-giving. Hence, in the origins of language the word red is derived from the word blood.

A dye of special significance, dating back to the ancient Phoenicians, was purple. In the town of Tyre, it was first made and from the Mediterranean shellfish (genera Purpura & Murex). They were whelks with long spiral shells with a large open end. The dye was extracted from the mucous gland adjacent to the respiratory cavity. The Greeks had a legend that Hercules roamed the shore with his dog, who, when hungry, crushed a shell between his teeth. His muzzle became stained with indelible purple, causing the discovery of a successful dye for wool.

Gathering nuts in the fall, as some of us still do, colonial mothers not only used them in cooking and baking, but also as a dye source. They boiled the nut rinds and the inside bark of nut trees with wool from their sheep, then they wove the wool into suits for their husbands and sons. Butternuts were most commonly used. They gave homespun material a definite and peculiar shade of brown.

Rock and sand paintings are interesting forms of artwork. Some artists whether or not they have been rock collectors, will crush minerals to create the palette for painting. Such minerals may be: azurite, shattuckite (blue); chrysocolla (turquoise); cinnabar (red); catlinite (rose); malachite (green); sulfur (pale yellow); purpurite (purple); gypsum (white); feldspar (peach through delicate pink); and limestone (gray)… Some of the famous frescoes which adorn the walls and ceilings of ancient European cathedrals were not done with oil but created by adding fine mineral pigment to plaster.

Did you know that most Midwesterners tend to prefer the colors blue and green? According to some studies this is due to psychological association. Blue is associated with clear summer skies and placid lakes. Green brings images of friendly, fertile grass interrupting the long, harsh, cold season.

I guess it’s safe to say that color unites us with all mankind and with life and growing things on the land here and elsewhere. Color can connect us to points in times past. And the colors of nature through the seasons, their sunrises and sunsets, and their moonlit nights and moody days can feed the eye’s enjoyment and the soul’s refreshment.”

Photo by Nancy Nabak

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