I’ve always wondered what color puce is. Now I know! I have found a wonderful new book that I’m devouring a shade at a time. It was in the Dallas Museum of Art’s gift shop where this book caught my eye, and I vaguely remembered reading an interesting review of it, so I knew I’d be putting it on my art book shelf.

The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair begins with an introduction to some of the science of color and the human ability to see color with our eyes’ rods and cones. Did you know that 1/12 men and 1/200 women have some degree of color blindness? She explains how her writing idea became a reality. She had been researching 1700’s women’s fashion, and came across old magazines which described clothing in such lush words:

"A bonnet trimmed with coquelicot-colored feathers or lemon-colored Sarcenet silk……a Roman mantle of scarlet kerseymere….To me, the descriptions of the latest fashions were as mouthwatering and bewildering as the tasting menus of a Michelin-starred restaurant."

And then she’s off….digging up the history of indigo (leaves fermented and beaten numerous times??!!), electric blue (the glowing cone of
Chernobyl’s nuclear disaster), amaranth seeds made into dough and mixed with the blood of the human sacrifices then baked into cakes (the priests were horrified at the similarity and parody of Holy Communion and outlawed the use of this plant). And those are just a few of the pages I’ve gobbled up.

Hues you might never have encountered surface in this fascinating book: Baker-Miller pink; minium; orpiment, and more. Historical situations
impacted by color are numerous, and reasons why colors fade from popularity are explored. You can reserve this book at the Harris County Public Library system, but you may want to order your own copy to have a color snack once in a while when you feel the need. Bon appétit!

Cori Austin

"An ekphrastic poem is like a jolt of electricity surging through a work of art."
- Patricia Smith, ARTLines2

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