The Bird-Based Colour System.

Bird diagram from Robert Ridgway’s ‘A nomenclature of colors for naturalists : and compendium of useful knowledge for ornithologists’ (1886) (via Smithsonian Libraries).

Bird diagram from Robert Ridgway’s ‘A nomenclature of colors for naturalists : and compendium of useful knowledge for ornithologists’ (1886) (via Smithsonian Libraries).

WASHINGTON, DC — An effort to describe the diversity of birds led to one of the first modern color systems. Published by Smithsonian ornithologist Robert Ridgway in 1886, A Nomenclature of Colors for Naturalists categorizes 186 colors alongside diagrams of birds. In 1912, Ridgway self-published an expanded version for a broader audience — Color Standards and Color Nomenclature — that included 1,115 colors. Some referenced birds, like “Warbler Green” and “Jay Blue,” while others corresponded to nature, as in “Bone Brown” and “Storm Gray.”

Ridgway wrote in his 1912 preface that “the nomenclature of colors remains vague and, for practical purposes, meaningless, thereby seriously impeding progress in almost every branch of industry and research.” He railed against confusing trade names like “‘zulu,’ ‘serpent green,’ ‘baby blue,’ ‘new old rose,’ ‘London smoke,’ etc., and such nonsensical names as ‘ashes of roses’ and ‘elephant’s breath.’”

Personally, I have a great fondness for those old trade names. They are wonderfully imaginative, and that sort of thing tends to appeal to artists. Ashes of Roses and London Smoke conjure up wonderful imagery. I also quite like the odd colour that is Ashes of Roses.

A copy of Ridgway’s 1912 book is on view in the Smithsonian Libraries’ Color in a New Light. Installed in two large display cases on the ground floor of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the exhibition examines the point at which art, history, and science blend through color. Ridgway’s research is joined by the work of 19th-century painter Gerald Handerson Thayer, whose studies of animals disguising themselves influenced military camouflage; a discussion of Fiestaware, which was painted with orange-red uranium oxide glaze and thus became unintentionally radioactive; and the history of Tyrian Purple pigment, made by mashing up snails.

Color systems date back centuries, at least to Richard Waller’s 1686 Tabula colorum physiologica. Yet bird-watching hones a sharp eye for color differentiation, so Ridgway had an edge — as well as a drive for perfection enabled by 19th-century synthetic dye advancements. This new color technology wasn’t without its dangers. One sample in Ridgway’s book is labeled “Scheele’s Green,” a reference to Wilhelm Scheele’s toxic mix of arsenic and copper.

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The Smithsonian Libraries’Color in a New Lightcontinues at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (10th & Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC) through March 2017.

Colors from Robert Ridgway’s ‘A Nomenclature of Colors for Naturalists : And Compendium of Useful Knowledge for Ornithologists’ (1886) (via Boston Public Library/Wikimedia)

Colors from Robert Ridgway’s ‘A Nomenclature of Colors for Naturalists : And Compendium of Useful Knowledge for Ornithologists’ (1886) (via Boston Public Library/Wikimedia)

Hyperallergic has an in-depth article, with many more photos on this always fascinating subject.

Comics.

Cover for The New Gods #1. Illustrated by Jack Kirby. Photo courtesy of DC Comics.

Cover for The New Gods #1. Illustrated by Jack Kirby. Photo courtesy of DC Comics.

The New Gods #1 (Reprint)

One of the comics featured in this week’s roundup is a digital reprint of a classic Jack Kirby comic. Kirby, longtime collaborator with Marvel icon Stan Lee, helped create famous characters like The Hulk, The Fantastic Four, and the X-Men. Unlike the more straightforward, BAM! POW! creations of Lee, Kirby’s written and illustrated works are tinged with the weird, the cosmic, and the symbolic. If readers try the reprint of New Gods #1 (reviewed below) and like what they read, other Kirby must-reads include the OMAC series, Devil Dinosaur, and Machine Man. In these comics, it’s clear Kirby didn’t care if you couldn’t keep up with his breakneck speed and garbled, grandiose language. This is old-fashioned science fiction, which neither strives for accuracy nor ease of readability, but falls somewhere wonderfully in-between.

Originally published in 1971, The New Gods tells the story of a battle between the forces of good and evil, with the New Gods (a group of super-powered heroes) battling the evil Darkseid. The main hero, Orion, rides around on little golden leg harnesses, uses his “Astro-Force” to blast away his enemies, and comes off like a grumpy old man as he quarrels with those trying to help him. This comic is baffling in its own self-reference and complexity, and biblical in its language and scope, but it’s absolutely a must-read for those who gravitate toward the weird and extra-dimensional. The closest piece of fiction one could compare The New Gods to are the latter novels in the Dune series, by Frank Herbert. And Kirby’s artwork is unparalleled in its ability to conjure grandeur with an economy of lines.

Cover for Jim Henson’s Labyrinth Tales. Illustrated by Corey Godbey. Photo courtesy of BOOM! Archaia.

Cover for Jim Henson’s Labyrinth Tales. Illustrated by Corey Godbey. Photo courtesy of BOOM! Archaia.

Jim Henson’s Labyrinth Tales

Artist and writer Corey Godbey captures all of the charm and mystery of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, and turns that into a storybook for kids. Less of a true comic than a series of full illustrations with narration, this book is so beautifully illustrated it will absolutely stick in the minds of young ones. The illustrations by Godbey are honeyed and sweet, and the world presented is simply magical. Though children’s books aren’t often covered in this column, this work is an absolute must for readers with young children.

Cover for Black Hammer #3. Illustrated by Dean Ormston. Photo courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

Cover for Black Hammer #3. Illustrated by Dean Ormston. Photo courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

Black Hammer #3

The heroes of Black Hammer used to be comic book heroes with rich backstories and varied interpersonal lives, but now they’ve been retconned. After a multidimensional crisis writes them out of their own stories, they’re forced to live in a small, timeless farming town. This issue focuses on Barbalien, the alien barbarian, as he attempts to adjust to his new life, and as he reminisces on how he got to earth to begin with. This is a hugely imaginative comic with wonderful art by Dean Ormston. If the series pitch intrigues readers, it’s probably best they go back to the start and try out issue #1.

Via The Creators Project.

Art Under the Microscope: Threads.

Most people are familiar with my work, so will readily understand my attraction to this particular piece of art examination, a microscopic look at the Triumph of Bacchus tapestry.

Triumph of Bacchus, design overseen by Raphael, ca. 1518-19; design and cartoon by Giovanni da Udine. Brussels, workshop of Frans Geubels, ca 1560. Paris, Mobilier National, inv. GMTT 1/3. Image © Le.

Triumph of Bacchus, design overseen by Raphael, ca. 1518-19; design and cartoon by Giovanni da Udine. Brussels, workshop of Frans Geubels, ca 1560. Paris, Mobilier National, inv. GMTT 1/3. Image © Le.

 

This photomicrograph shows the warp and weft threads used to create a background detail in the Triumph of Bacchus tapestry.

This photomicrograph shows the warp and weft threads used to create a background detail in the Triumph of Bacchus tapestry.

 

The horizontal threads are the undyed wool warps that are the backbone of the underlying weave structure to the tapestry.

The horizontal threads are the undyed wool warps that are the backbone of the underlying weave structure to the tapestry.

 

The decorative vertical threads include both crimson colored silk wefts as well as precious metal weft threads.

The decorative vertical threads include both crimson colored silk wefts as well as precious metal weft threads.

 

The Metal threads are made of very thin strips of gilt silver wrapped around yellow dyed silk.

The Metal threads are made of very thin strips of gilt silver wrapped around yellow dyed silk.

How exactly was the gilding of tapestries done in the 16th century? These microscopic images reveal all.

These images show the warp and weft threads used to create a background detail in the Triumph of Bacchus tapestry recently exhibited in “Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV.”

Viewed from a distance (like when the tapestry is hanging high up on a wall), the combo of the crimson silk with the gold threads looks like a bright copper, and here we can see all the separate colors and textures that build up that look.

Detail from the Triumph of Bacchus Tapestry.

Detail from the Triumph of Bacchus Tapestry. It was woven with wool, silk and metal threads.

The Getty has a fascinating tumblr, Art Under the Microscope, examining all manner of art in microphotographs.

Miss Hokusai.

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Last year we wrote an article about Oei Katsushika, the daughter of the famed Ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai. What we didn’t know at the time was that a Japanese film on that exact subject was just getting ready to be released. Directed by Keiichi Hara (Colorful) and Production I.G (creators of Ghost in the Shell), “Miss Hokusai” is coming to theaters in the U.S. this fall and the trailer was just released.

As we wrote last year, only about 10 actual works have been attributed to Oei, but considering Katsushika Hokusai created some of his most famous and brilliant works towards the end of his life it seems reasonable to wonder just how much of the work was created by Oei. And the film appears to tree in similar waters:

As all of Edo flocks to see the work of the revered painter Hokusai, his daughter O-Ei toils diligently inside his studio. Her masterful portraits, dragons and erotic sketches – sold under the name of her father – are coveted by upper crust Lords and journeyman print makers alike. Shy and reserved in public, in the studio O-Ei is as brash and uninhibited as her father, smoking a pipe while sketching drawings that would make contemporary Japanese ladies blush. But despite this fiercely independent spirit, O-Ei struggles under the domineering influence of her father and is ridiculed for lacking the life experience that she is attempting to portray in her art. Miss Hokusai‘s bustling Edo (present day Tokyo) is filled with yokai spirits, dragons, and conniving tradesmen, while O-Ei’s relationships with her demanding father and blind younger sister provide a powerful emotional underpinning to this sumptuously-animated coming-of-age tale.

Looking forward to this very much! Via Spoon & Tamago.

Not Your Grandfather’s Blue Jeans.

Courtesy Lauren A. Badams.

Courtesy Lauren A. Badams.

A team of scientists from the U.S., Belgium, Portugal, and the U.K. have pushed back the first use of Indigofera tinctoria as blue fabric dye in the world to South America 6,200 years ago. The previous oldest physical specimen was from Egypt 4,400 years ago, although there were written references to blue dye going back 5,000 years. The blue dyed cotton fabric was discovered in an archaeological site that has been studied for many years, Huaco Prieta, located in the northern coastal region of modern Peru.

Publication of the study by Jeffrey C. Splitstoser and his colleagues in Science Advances this month has set off wisecracks in popular science publications about Andean Indians inventing blue jeans, but it is a much bigger deal than that. Besides, what was new about blue jeans was the rivets, not the color.

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Indigo blue was highly prized long before the Americas were “discovered.” The ancient Greeks understood India to be the source of the dye and indigo—along with spices and silk—made up the trade goods the Europeans were seeking when they got sidetracked by Aztec and Incan gold.

Why is it a big deal that indigo appears in South America long before Asia or Africa? If the dye required nothing but mashing up something blue, then it might be found everywhere the plant grew, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Most ancient dyes were fairly simple. Flower petals were boiled to make them yield up their color. Ochre yielded reds and yellows, depending on the exact iron content. A bright white dye can be extracted from milkweed.

The first difference indigo presents is that the dye is not in the flowers. It’s in the leaves. To make the leaves yield the color, they first have to be fermented. The fermented solids are then dried. The fermented and dried indigo is light and easy to ship.

The indigo solids must then be treated with an alkaline substance, commonly urine, to produce a dye that is apparently white. Yarn treated with the reconstituted indigo comes out white but then turns to yellow, to green, and finally to the deep blue that makes the dye so valuable.

In an interview with Live Science, Splitstoser speculated, “This was probably a technology that was invented by women.” He noted that women were typically in charge of weaving and dying in Andean cultures.

The discovery at Huaco Prieta adds another example of cultural knowledge either purposely destroyed or ignored out of arrogance by conquistadors who believed they were doing God’s work in destroying non-Christian cultures. That destruction fed the myth that Europe represented science when the Americas represented superstition.

These people who were burning Mayan writings and destroying works of astronomy and mathematics and chemistry were burning human beings for heresy at the same time. Indians had science and Europeans had superstition. It ought to be possible to compare cultures in a more objective manner than the settlers have chosen when they wrote all the histories.

Full article here.

Willard Stone.

Willard Stone, “War Widows” (nd), wild cherry wood, 7 1/2 x 20 1/2 x 4 1/2 inches (courtesy Gilcrease Museum).

Willard Stone, “War Widows” (nd), wild cherry wood, 7 1/2 x 20 1/2 x 4 1/2 inches (courtesy Gilcrease Museum).

Most people don’t know Willard Stone, a Cherokee sculptor who did amazing work, most of in in the 1940s. He was deeply affected by the threat of atomic war, and that is the subject of several of his pieces. There’s a show and centennial celebration of his work at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma until January 22nd, 2017. Hyperallergic has an excellent article about Mr. Stone.

TULSA, Okla. — Willard Stone’s wood-carving style might be described as Art Deco Cherokee, with a distinct, streamlined movement and natural themes that reflect his indigenous heritage. He’d originally wanted to be a painter, but a childhood accident with a blasting cap blew off his thumb and two other fingers. So he slowly learned sculpture instead, forming figures from Oklahoma’s red clay. His 1940s work in particular responded to the threat and promise of atomic energy, while still including the Native American motifs expected by his patrons. To mark the centennial of his birth in Oktaha, Oklahoma, the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa is exhibiting Following the Grain: A Centennial Celebration of Willard Stone.

Willard Stone, “Tree Dog” (nd), torch-burned cherry wood, 13 3/4 x 3 3/4 x 5 1/8 inches (courtesy Gilcrease Museum).

Willard Stone, “Tree Dog” (nd), torch-burned cherry wood, 13 3/4 x 3 3/4 x 5 1/8 inches (courtesy Gilcrease Museum).

 

Willard Stone, “Modernistic Indian Girl” (1946), oak wood, 9 x 2 1/2 x 1 3/4 inches (courtesy Gilcrease Museum).

Willard Stone, “Modernistic Indian Girl” (1946), oak wood, 9 x 2 1/2 x 1 3/4 inches (courtesy Gilcrease Museum).

There’s much more to see, and read, at Hyperallergic.  Following the Grain: A Centennial Celebration of Willard Stone.

Via Hyperallergic.

Erehwon Stairway.

Influenced by the M.C. Escher-esque designs of Indian stepwells, British architect Thomas Heatherwick has unveiled plans for a giant stairway to nowhere in New York City’s Hudson Yards. Tentatively titled “Vessel,” the public landmark will consist of 154 intersecting flights of stairs and 80 landings zigzagging up above a plaza and garden on the far west side of Manhattan. Made of bronzed steel and concrete, the structure is slated to open in 2018.

Resembling a giant bronze ribcage — or a beehive, or a basket, depending on whom you ask — “Vessel” will weigh 600 tons and cost $150 million. It will be among the least utilitarian structures of its size in a space-starved city: its 2,500 steps don’t lead to any offices or condominiums or retail spaces. Instead, the sculptural “Vessel” will essentially function as a massive observation tower and jungle gym. While hiking the miles worth of stairs to the top, 16 stories up, visitors will get 360-degree views of the surrounding city and a free workout. A curving elevator will make the structure wheelchair accessible.

In addition to Indian stepwells, Heatherwick’s design was inspired by a beloved piece of urban detritus from his youth. “When I was a student, I fell in love with an old discarded flight of wooden stairs outside a local building site,” Heatherwick said in a statement about the design. “It caught my imagination and I loved that it was part furniture and part infrastructure. You could climb up stairs, jump on them, dance on them, get tired on them, and then plonk yourself down on them.”

Years later, when Heatherwick’s studio was commissioned by Hudson Yards developer Related Companies to create a centerpiece landmark for the site, this old discarded wooden staircase came to mind. “We wondered whether [the commission] could be built entirely from steps and landings?” Heatherwick said. “The goal became to lift people up to be more visible and to enjoy new views and perspectives of each other. … The idea is that it will act as a new free stage set for the city and form a new public gathering place for New Yorkers and visitors.”

Thomas Heatherwick Studio, rendering for “Vessel” (2016) (all images by and courtesy Forbes Massie).

Thomas Heatherwick Studio, rendering for “Vessel” (2016) (all images by and courtesy Forbes Massie).

While the cost of this piece leaves me feeling on the faint side, I have to say I love the idea of stairs being allowed to be the focus, rather than just a way to get to something else, with the something else always being more important. This makes me feel a childish joy. It’s lovely to look at, too. It’s just the cost of it all that bothers; all that money could do so much good. Well, here’s hoping this does people a lot of good on the spiritual side of life.

Hyperallergic has the full story.

Wenyi.

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Chinese artist Wenyi wanders the streets of his home in Dali, Yunnan Province, China, gathering bits of discarded cardboard to use as his canvas. Wenyi then takes the bits of trash he finds and draws the surroundings on each object. The small pieces range from quick black and white sketches to colorful drawings of entire homes, each a snapshot of his hometown. After sketching the scenery Wenyi places his completed works back into their original locations, imbuing the everyday refuse with art. “I want people to see art in our everyday life,” said Wenyi to Bored Panda, “even if it’s on wasted paper.”

What could I possibly say? This is beautiful, inspired work, which I am sure has large ripples which affect people in a very good way. Via Colossal Art.

Tribal Photography.

© Jimmy Nelson.

© Jimmy Nelson.

How often do you learn a valuable lesson from pissing yourself drunk, besides, “never drink that much again?” While traveling with a Central Mongolian tribe, photographer Jimmy Nelson learned lessons both in reindeer psychology and humor after downing too much vodka and wetting his tent. As the story goes, he woke up to reindeer charging into his bed (apparently they love human urine). Nelson tells this and more stories, accompanied by his majestic portraits of the customs and trappings of indigenous peoples from accross the world, in a new video from the Cooperative of Photography. Like Aesop’s fables, Nelson’s anecdotes have lessons touching on knowledge, vulnerability, and pride. Young photographers can also learn a lot about how to interact with subjects respectfully and purposefully.

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© Jimmy Nelson.

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© Jimmy Nelson.

 

Jimmy Nelson currently has a show at Gallery KNOKKE through September 18. See more of his work on his website. Visit the Cooperative of Photography for more tips, tricks, and interviews with photographers.

Via The Creators Project, where there are more photos.

Sunday Dance.

No facepalm today. No eyerolls. No head shaking, no crying, no despair, no sense of hopelessness. I need healing, and it’s days away until the camps and wacipi. So, just for today, I’m going to pretend that all people are good, and all people are as connected to all as they should be. Way back when these photos were just taken, I uploaded some to a photo forum I used to frequent. I had a person take me to task over the 7th photo, because the dancer “ruined the moment and atmosphere completely” by wearing NBA socks. I never noticed until that moment, being captivated by the young man’s dancing, which was beautiful. Public perception, it really, really has to change. Clickety for full size.

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© C. Ford, all rights reserved.

A Crocheted Statement.

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Artist Olek reveals an entire two-story house covered roof to floorboards in pink crochet. This new yarn-bombed installation currently stands in Kerava, Finland where Olek worked with a team of assistants to stitch together huge panels of crochet that envelop every inch of this 100-year-old house. Olek shares:

Originally, this building, built in the early 1900s, was the home of Karl Jacob Svensk (1883-1968). During the Winter War 1939-1940, the family fled to evade bombs falling into the yard, but they didn’t have to move out permanently. In 2015, more than 21 million people were forced to leave their homes in order to flee from conflicts. The pink house, our pink house is a symbol of a bright future filled with hope; is a symbol us coming together as a community.

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Isn’t that grand! I love this. I love the statement, the vibrancy, the life, the love, and the community of it. From Olek’s site:

A loop after a loop. Hour after hour my madness becomes crochet. Life and art are inseparable. The movies I watch while crocheting influence my work, and my work dictates the films I select. I crochet everything that enters my space. Sometimes it’s a text message, a medical report, found objects. There is the unraveling, the ephemeral part of my work that never lets me forget about the limited life of the art object and art concept. What do I intend to reveal? You have to pull the end of the yarn and unravel the story behind the crochet.

My work changes from place to place. I studied the science of culture. With a miner’s work ethic, I long to delve deeper and deeper into my investigations. My art was a development that took me away from industrial, close-minded Silesia, Poland. It has always sought to bring color and life, energy, and surprise to the living space. My goal is to produce new work and share it with the public. I intend to take advantage of living in NYC with various neighborhoods and, with my actions, create a feedback to the economic and social reality in our community.

Via Colossal Art. –  Olek’s site.

Cool Stuff Friday.

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A chain of koi fish float through an exhibit space, illuminating their immediate surroundings with a self-contained, warm orange glow. The works come from a familiar yet unexpected name: Frank Gehry. Early in his artistic career, Gehry created several visual installations and furniture designs, many in the late-20th century, that would influence his later accomplishments in architecture. Fish Lamps draws upon the flowing and undulating movement of the water species, an aesthetic that often made an appearance in Gehry’s singular building designs.

I have very few lamps, but I’d be happy to give some of these a home. Full Story at the Creators Project.

What should you wear to keep cool on a hot day? One word: plastics.

A form of polyethylene — the common plastic that makes up ClingWrap — is a promising candidate for a textile that prevents us from overheating, researchers say. Hopefully, it won’t look like those PVC bodysuits that pop up every Halloween.

Many researchers are trying to create cooling fabrics, from cloth inspired by squid skin to electroactive textiles. But the team led by Yi Cui, a materials scientist at Stanford University, was inspired by materials that we don’t usually consider for clothing. In a study published today in Science, the team turned a battery component into a textile that lets our body’s natural heat escape better than cotton. The team hasn’t worn the fabric themselves yet, but Cui insists it feels “very much like normal fabric” and hopes it will be commercialized within two years.

Full story at The Verge.

Supergirl creator developing a Black Lightning TV series.

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Supergirl and Arrow co-creator Greg Berlanti is reportedly developing a series following Black Lightning, one of DC Comics’ first major black superheroes. According to Deadline, Berlanti is working with The Game creator Mara Brock Akil and her husband to get the drama off the ground, and the trio are currently shopping the project to multiple networks.

Black Lightning has the chance to be DC’s highest profile black superhero series to date. Created in 1977 by writer Tony Isabella and artist Trevor Von Eeden, Black Lightning, otherwise known as Jefferson Pierce, is an educator and eventual member of the Justice League with the power to control electrical energy. In the proposed TV series, Pierce will have retired from superheroics, but after his daughter’s life is endangered by his city’s underworld, he willingly steps back into his old alter ego.

Full story here.