“Color, a Natural History of the Palette” by Victoria Finlay

Recommended Reading

I’m savoring the book, “Color” by Victoria Finlay. Gifted to me by a friend, it’s taken me around the globe and through time.  As a teacher and an artist I’ve studied and taught color, but Finlay goes to the sources of color and shares stories about it in dyes, paints, politics, economies and mysteries.  An intrepid adventurer, she braves dust and bureaucracies, haunts research libraries and exotic lands in search of the sources and history of color. You’ll travel to meet some aboriginal artists in Australia; follow a sleuthing 18th century French patriot to collect cochineal bugs from Oaxaca where, if caught, he would have been hung; wonder whether green killed Bonaparte; travel in Taliban controlled Afghanistan looking for lapis lazuli, the source of ultramarine blue;  consider Stradivarius’ orange varnish; visit saffron fields. Once I was a potter who spent lots of time in my lab searching for wonderful glaze colors. Therefore I particularly enjoyed learning about a very special porcelain called mi se (pronounced “meeser”), meaning “mysterious color”. Finlay quotes a Five Dynasties poet, XU YIN, who writes about mi se,

Carving the light from the moon to dye the mountain stream.”

She weaves a good tale and exhibits a grasp of the bigger picture too. The opening quote is from the Seventh Dalai Lama’s

“Song of the Immaculate Path”

“An image reflected in a mirror, a rainbow
in the sky, and a painted scene
Make their impressions upon the mind, but in
essence are other than what they seem
Look deeply at the world, and see an illusion,
a magician’s dream.”

An armchair adventure awaits you in the pages of “Color”  as well as a deeper appreciation of our world. Thank you Victoria Finlay.