My Reading Rainbow

If you’ve found your way to my Thank you, Yves Klein  post, you know that color does to me what truffle oil does to some chefs. This passion extends beyond paint chips, gift wrap swatches, a stash of gorgeous paper napkins and all the way to books about color. How could you not love a book titled Mauve? Or Indigo?

I’ll start with Mauve by Simon Garfield. Subtitled, How one man invented a color that changed the world, Mauve traces the 1865 labratory mishap by an 18 year old chemist. (I love these mishaps. A similar such unintended result begot Yin Min blue, too.) Young William Perkin was trying to synthesize quinine. Instead he produced an oily sludge that dyed silk a gorgeous shade of light purple, revolutioninzing the field of chemistry and its subsequent impact on photography, fashion, medicine, perfume to name a few.

Staying in the blue family, Catherin E McKinley’s Indigo traces the origins of this precious plant and how it has remained one of the most valued pigments in the world for nearly 5,000 years. Indigo’s journeys weren’t calm blue highways but fraught with slavery, trade wars, and agricultural exploitation. Had Perkin known about indigo’s anti-malarial properties (it repels the mosquitos that carry the disease) we might never have had mauve.

If there’s only one color book you want to enjoy, go for Kassia St. Clair’s The Secret Lives of Color. It is pure magic.  A rainbow of lore, information, color vocabulary, language and history.  The chapters are organized in color wheel fashion and each page is edged in the color it describes.  Ruffle the pages and dive in wherever you want. I’m familiar with woad, celadon and verdigris. But gamboge? Mountbatten Pink? Minium?

The best vocabulary word St. Clair taught me? Chromophilia.  Oh yeah.  I’ve got it bad. And happily so.


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