Friday, February 25, 2011

Making Rocks Bleed

For my core curricula I have to take a basic speech class of which I am enrolled this semester. Years of working customer service, teaching art at a recreation center and running a small cafe have rendered this class a bit on the boring side, plus I have been speaking or performing in front of groups for more than twenty years, so I decided to pursue topics for my speeches which are interesting to me. My first two minute introductory speech I prepared on the ten minute walk from my house to campus. It was about how much of a geek I am, from the interest in science and math, right down to the glasses and asthma. For the second speech, "how to" do something, I built a lego mosaic of the school mascot:
Go Mavs!

I spent much more time on building the bull than on the speech itself, so that was fun.

So for my next speech, I went with a book I had been reading in my spare time entitled Color; A Natural History of the Palette. It is a great mix of fiction and fact surrounding the origins of paints and dyes used by humans. The author includes the imagined journeys of fictitious characters of the past on the search for various pigment to supplement her own journeys to far away lands in search of various bugs, plants and rocks which have been processed for color throughout history. A few interesting tidbits from the book:

1. The Aborigines still go on pilgrimages to secret ochre bearing locations as rituals.
2. The Cochneal bug is still used (in the crushed, dried, processed form) to color several foods and makeups, so if you see E120, you are using bugs.
4. For all the green that occurs in nature, it is surprisingly hard to find a good pigment.
3. Ultramarine (from the Italian oltromarino or "beyond sea") is made from the Lapis Lazuli stone that was only mined in a single place in Afghanistan.  It was so expensive in the past, that Michelangelo couldn't afford it to finish his painting, "The Entombment".

If you are looking for a fairly quick read, I completely recommend Victoria Finlay's book.  It is a great look into the past and continuing processes in the quest to color our lives.

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