[Screengrabs from scholar Elena Phipps's Met lecture on Cochineal Red: The Art History of a Color. At left, Suit, British made 1750-1775, wool, silk, gold. At right, Coat, Islamic, Mid-19th century or earlier, silk, wool, cotton, bast fiber.]
For a science-phobic but visually-oriented, nature-loving person, the study of color can often be a great bridge from art and design to chemistry and biology. Elena Phipps's long-time investigation of cochineal red, the famous insect-derived dye, definitely weaves together art, science, and history. So, fans of the rich hue take note: Phipps will be at the de Young museum November 12 at 10 a.m. discussing her 2010 book, Cochineal Red: The Art History of a Color. (Admission is $10. Click here for details.)
In addition to serving as a textile conservator with the Met for thirty-four years, Phipps is currently Vice-President of the Textile Society of America, and President-elect (2012–2014). Her de Young visit ties in with an exhibition we talked about a while back, The Art of the Anatolian Kilim on view through June 10, 2012.
And thanks to my friends over at Enfilade, I know that a new title by Phipps, Looking at Textiles, is due out in January 2012.
[This instructional chart and all below © The Art of Instruction by Katrien Van der Schueren, Chronicle Books, 2011.]
The visual and technical also intersect in Katrien Van der Schueren's book, The Art of Instruction.
Truth be told, I believe I first heard about this edition during the summer but it was when I spied the vivid orange spine and lush cover botanical poking out of a new display in the art book department at Sam Flax that my curiosity was really sparked.
Maybe a century ago, some kids in a European classroom responded in a similar way to the original full-blown botany wall chart.
As many of you know, Van der Schueren owns voila! gallery in L. A. She' s been collecting large-scale antique and vintage educational wall charts from the 19th and 20th centuries for more than ten years. It's a fascinating genre because, while the brilliantly colored, highly detailed charts were carefully rendered and integral to classroom instruction, they were rarely catalogued by schools or the companies that produced them.
The charts were most prevalent in elementary and high schools and in universities between 1870 and 1920. During this time, class size was large enough that passing actual specimens or loose engravings from student to student was impractical but well-illustrated individual text books were not available either. Van der Schueren says the botanical and anatomical charts were graphically designed so that each student -- even one in the very back row -- could easily see them. In fact, the charts were thought of as works of art, enriching a child's surroundings, as well as scientific tools.
At the beginning of her book, she offers a concise overview of the artists and companies behind these posters; the remainder of the volume is devoted to striking reproductions, organized in two categories: Botany and Zoology. The big appendix is helpful, too, serving to identify what we see in the illustrated charts. With the multitude of intrinsic patterns found in nature, textile designers will find much to inspire.