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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1282–continued, & now with the Full Text book!

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[Earlier in this blog, about 1200 posts ago, a million words ago, I wrote about an extraordinary book by an aesthetician named Emily Vanderpoel. It is "extraordinary" in a narrower sense, and that "extraordinary" might not actually be positive for its original intent. The extra-intent of the book, what has come out of it for me, was something that was unintentionally accomplished by the author. The images that she used to illustrate her color theory ideas--the basis of which are not really comprehensible to me--turn out to be artwork in themselves, a found art, the artistry of the images taking over the original intention for the arrangement of their color. I've found the book now at the Internet Archive in all of its glory, and downloaded only 150 times. I'm still at a loss to know why this work hasn't received more attention

The idea of how we put parameters to something like the visual field is a gargantuan topic—it is something that architects and geometers and physicists and mathematicians (in general) have dealt with forever.

The full text is available HERE via Internet Archive.

Mapmakers have perhaps the most visualized aspect of this on paper, performing the semi-miracle of translating three dimensions into two; physicists have a more difficult time, taking the opposite approach, sort of , and translating two or three dimensional space into x-number of dimensions. Anatomists had a difficult time of their subject until relatively recently in human history, what with the sublime religious curfews on messy knowledge and all coming into play, poking around into the heart and such as though it was an affront to the sanctity of the creator (M Servetus’ ideas on the circulation of the blood via the heart, making the heart a tool and not the brain or some odd conjunction of creative divine power, cost him his life, burning slowly alive at the stake…how mysterious the whole world of RNA Genotype-Phenotype Mapping and such would seem to him if he could have a peek into the future/present from wherever he is.)

Color theory is old and pretty—as a matter of fact there is a very attractive gathering of color theory models (in black and white, though) displaying some two dozen or more color models from the last 400 years. People like Della Porta (1593), our old friend and resident oddball polymath crank Kircher (1646), the smarter-than-you-could-imagine Newton (1660), Waller (1686), Lambert (1772), the wide ranging and again polymathic Goethe (1792), Herschel (1817, who also ushered in our understanding of the other light-sensitive shape spacing medium of photography in 1840), the semi-forgotten Chevreul (1835), the beautiful Maxwell (1857), Wundt (1874, the early experimental psychologist who also looked for spirits/spiritmus and ghosts), von Bezold (1878), Rood (1879), Munsell (1918) Kandinsky (1914 and not decipherable by me) and Klee (1924), and so on towards the present, all tried to analyze the prospects of color.

Not in this list is the very highly problematic Emily Vanderpoel, who in 1901 and 1903 produced (in two editions) a lovely but mysterious book called Color Problems for the Layman, in which she sought not so much to analyze the components of color itself, but rather to quantify the overall interpretative effect of color on the imagination. I know this sounds begging and vague, but I really haven’t been able to make much headway in the work.

I’m attracted to this effort because of its attempt at quantifying such abstract thoughts.

By virtue of this effort, though, Vanderpoel had produced a strikingly illustrated book, with 118 color plates, all very intense, and beautiful, and in its way exceptional—unique for it time perhaps. Had the book been written thirty years or so hence we’d call it some sort of constructivist/constructionist artform. But since the artwork in the book comes a decade before the first non-representational artwork in human history (or so), I don’t know exactly what to call it.

I really don’t know what it is, but I know that it is not entirely accidental, this pre-non-representational artform, because controlled geometrical color art is not accidental.

In trying to quantify the color images of the objects in her study, Vanderpoel establishes a 10×10 square grid, dividing all of the color in that object into individual units numbering to 100. Then, somehow, she identifies the major colors and places them according to a system that I cannot understand within the grid.


The net effect is glorious. I just don’t know how she got there—which isn’t normally a consideration in art, except that this work is an instructional on how to understand color in art and nature, and the explanation of the procedure is ethereal. Vanderpoel was and remains a respected author on porcelains and other applied and plastic arts. In this work she looked at her fair share of porcelain, limogues, clay pots, burial urns, glass shards, and the like; she also analyzed clouds, mummy cloths (and casings), dew on morning grass, brocade, the eye of a blue jay, feathers, and another hundred or so poetic arragenments of the stuff of teh world. I still do not know what this book is trying to tell me, but I do know that it is remarkable.

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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

"Colour Blindess in Relation to the Homeric Expressions for Colour", from Nature Magazine, volume 18, p. 676, 1878.

"In an article on "The Colour Sense" in the Number of the Nineteenth Century for October last, Mr. Gladstone points out certain peculiarities…in the expressions of colour used by Homer. "Although" he says "this writer has used light in various forms for his purposes with perhaps greater splendor and effect than any other poet, yet the colour adjectives and colour descriptions of the poems are not only imperfect but highly ambiguous and confused". And again-"we find that his sense of colour was not only narrow, but also vague, and wanting in description".

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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

German color375[Part of the series on Color and its Abuses, as with an example of "When Color is Best in Black-and-White", here.]
Nothing quite says no-color as German deep noir of the mid- and late-1920's. These movies can be so deep and contrasted, so very black-and-white, with such stark Moon-like shadows, no dawn or dusk just night and day, that it can make you forget that outside of the photographs and movies that people were moving around in great swirls of color. And nothing quite helps you to remember this than by having a look at a book like one below, a DIY piece printed in Berlin in 1927, the Farbige Wohraume1.

German color377
It is of interest here because in addition to blueprints and sections of the furniture to be built, there are associated illustrations showing the completed work placed in a decorated room. And it just so happens that these rooms are highly, colorfully decorated–not that there's so much in the room, per se, but there is definitely a lot of color. [This book is available from our blog bookstore, here.]

German color371

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1334

Color floor--cvr382I remember that the floor of my grandmother's beauty salon (in Great Barrington, Massachusetts) was a dark (gray on black?) rolled linoleum affair, not much different from the floors that you'd see (if you could see them) in black and white movies from the 1930's. Grandma's floors were probably that old–my memory is from the early 1960's and the salon was far older than that–and so they looked like you'd expect an old, shiny, kept floor to look. Plus you'd never really see floors in those older films, anyway, so it was difficult to see even if there was a design, let alone imaging a color.

That's why it is so surprising to see magnificently-colored floors in catalogs such as Armstrong Cork Company's Better Floor for Better Business (1936) and Home Decorator's Idea Book (1931). (Both of these booklets are available for purchase from our blog bookstore.) Color wasn't invented after World War II–it just seems that way. Color photographs, color home films and color motion pictures really didn't get a popular start until then, so it might be natural to assume that the world was a bit more bland in shades of gray before then.

Color floor--dining374
All the same, these floors are so terrifically colorful that they look to me to be like a tiny design writ large–like a design for nightclub's matchbook cover done on a 500 square foot canvas.

Color floor--kinder375
[This is a kindergarten room, by the way.]

Color floor--clothing store376

000-ebay--Oct 30 rubber floor965See what I mean? These floors are beautiful in a way that escapes beauty. I don't particularly like them nor would I want to live on them, but they do have a certain inescapable loveliness to them that is just not beautiful. Perhaps it is the odd juxtaposition of unexpected color. This is seen in sharper detail (left) in a post that a made ("There Was a Rubber Lady in a Rubber Room…) earlier in this blog. Or maybe it is the unexpected combination of colors, or the unexpectedness of the colors themselves, that is the driver to this lusciousness.

And then there are the swastikas.

Now the swastika is a very, very old symbol, thousands of years old, transcontinental, transoceanic, a transcendental image that was completely and forever corrupted by the National Socialist Party, a shameful symbol, a symbol turned into a hatefuil and horrible thing in just 20 years or so, overtaking two millenia of use. And here we are, in the early- and mid-1930's, during the time of the Nazis and Hitler and their free use of the swastika, here we are with this Armstrong firm from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, still using the swastika in design elements for their floors.

Color floor--swastika 377

Color floor--swastika 378

(Here's one page of floor design elements from the Armstrong catalog at left; and the detail for design number three at right.)

Armstrong was also in the heart of some country within the United States (Lancaster) that was very rich in symbolist design, but I think that this has nothing to do with anything. I'm also not making th case for their being fascist leanings at Armstrong–I'm simply pointing out that even as late as 1938 (when another edition of this work appeared again with swastika design) that the image was still acceptable enough to have as part of a part of a floor. It strikes me as deeply odd.

Here's another example from the 1936 catalog (and just to be perfectly clear I'm not highlighting the swastika part–it is offset in different colors in the originals):

Color floor--swastika 379

Color floor--swastika 380

I'm not seeing Nazis in my porridge, though Madison Sqaure Garden was still getting filled up by American Nazis for their German Bund meeting in 1936–I'm just pointing out that it seems surpising that the symbol was still being used in popular design as late as it was.

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1129

In the earliest part of the printed history of picturing scary things everything left the printer in black and white. The colorist added the necessary tinting and fright stuff, though it seems to me that the sheets that made it through to binding in black and white were the most disturbing of them all. Most of the time and for several centuries color was left to the desire of the individual, the purchaser of the book; the green of dragons or the reds of monster men or yellows of serpents were mostly given life by the buyer. Color printing had to wait more than three hundred years
Medieval monster after Gutenberg’s Bible–there was some multi-color printing for grammars and the like where words and phrases were printed in multiple colors, requiring numerous passes through the press, but by and large the color printing of artwork was more a 19th century thing more than anything else.
My own preference is for black and white images that let the mind fill in the beasts from outside in, allowing the imagination to run with the text and the description of the beast, rather than fast-forwarding to the completed images. It is these images, the black and whites, which have retained some element of scary or creepy over the years; the colored images don’t make it quite so well.

Color does makes some unexpected contributions to scariness, and in uncommon places. For example, this photo
Blog--color--mea tloaf351 from a 1933 Chicago World’s Fair pamphlet for the exhibitor Durkee Famous Foods fits the ticket perfectly. It is an image of a sandwich loaf that is made mainly with scrapings of ham and lots of Durkee products, which were things like mayonnaise, oleomargarine, cheese squeezings, tapioca, coconut oil, salad dressings and vegetable shortening. The color of the object only heightens the creepiness of its contents, all of which was topped by a layering of mayonnaise and cream cheese studded with olives.

Admittedly this color photograph comes at the earliest stages of the modern aspect of color photography, and perhaps the engineers were a little too anxious at spreading their food-color, it still just isn't good. Here’s the recipe:

Blog--color--jmeatloaf rec354

There's also this incredible plate (below), having some sort of internal color dialog with itself, though manifested externally–it must not be a pretty conversation. House of La
Rosa. 101 Ways to Prepare Macaroni seems
about as benign and forgettable a title that one could write; that said, once
opened, this little pamphlet poured its heart out to the Naïve Surreal in us
all with the unforgettable (and accurate) color images of the promised linguine

===blog==aug 24=color--sauce green

And of course there are innumerable examples of architectural bits:

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And even when beautiful, color can be scary, as in the case of the very highly problematic Oliver Byrne, whose work restructuring the explanation of the first six books of Euclid is inversely useful to its great beauty.

Byrnes II.14

As unsettling as these color images may be, none come quite so close to being a truly visceral experience as does the Durkee sandwich loaf. These other color examples are just simply wrong; but the Durkee food product, slathered in oil and leftover, is just so wrong it isn't even wrong anymore.

JF Ptak Science Books

Squares 1130 There is an invisible thread running through this blog on the history of squares, starting with Euclid and winding its way through Mondrian, Klee and Malevich and Boullee, atom bomb resistant countries, pixels, perfect, Times, magic, and so on. I don't think that I've ever touched on what might be my own solitary and perhaps-wrong observation on the preponderance of green squares in 1950's linoleum flooring. As I said, this might be because of my own faulty receptors–and even if I'm slightly correct the color I think doesn't mean or imply anything in particular. Perhaps the abundance of green comes from a left-over paint or dye that a manufacturer decided to bump into flooring; or perhaps green just looked better to the readers of LIFE magazine than other colors. Be that as it may, there is some loose strand of memory that gets activated every time I see green squares in flooring of the 1950's, and I just wanted to say that I noticed it.

Squares 2131

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1056 (First post in our History of Noses series)

Durante--numbered nose128 There is an entire dictionary of explanations for this odd image (appearing in LIFE magazine for 14 September 1953). Here's a candidate launched from this blog's Museum of Impossible Things department: the photograph accompanies a newspaper clipping from the Library of Congress' Newspaper Clippings Collections!, an above-the-fold front-page obituary for a man with an unusual obsession, as follows:

[ Obituary from the St. Florida News, from At, Texas. ]
"The Mystery of the Secret Painter of At, Solved!"
"Gileless, Newton. After a long illness of undescribed origin and affect, Mr Newton Gileless, at home. Newton was born in Aint, Texas before moving to At in 1916 “to get away from the negativeness”. He had few friends and distant neighbors, and was fond of keeping overturned muffin-stuffed cowboy boots on his fence posts. He donated hard pancakes to the bench-sitting old men down by the Rexall, and kept a large box at the Post Office."

"Mr. Gileless’ prime mover of community interest was his secretive painting practices. For decades Mr. Gileless could be seen scurrying around town, or at in the fields, or along the dusty roads, or at the stream near the peach trees, carrying a large easel with a canvas attached with yards of paintin' rope.. He could be seen painting but only from a distance, as distance of quietness seemed the enabler for his painterly ambitions. The object of his interests was not known"

"Mr. Gileless’ estate was left to Bo Tanger, the regional coroner, who administered the last wishes and who revealed the close secret. “I finally got to see what Newton was painting”, said Tanger, "and its odd, even for here, where people's business is their own in private, and his was public".

Durante--big pic127

[Photo: 2nd grade class with their happy bequest of Mr. Gileless' artwork at At, Texas Primary School.]

"Mr. Gileless' continued artist pursuit was painting Color-by-Numbers portraits of Vaudevillean, comic and movie actor Jimmy Durante. There were more than 6,250 of these portraits found in Gileless' barn. His will instructs (and provides the funds for) their distribution to 'as many good Texan second-graders as possible. Yes.' And so it was this that Mr. Gileless was painting in his secret painterly way, painting again and again, hoping for hte colors to improve with exposure to different surroundings, especially and evidently en plein air."

"When overly prompted on the mysterious Durante muse, Mr. Tang responded: 'Well sir, I don't know. But Durante has showbusiness' biggest nose, and Mr Gilieless had but a scant smidgeon. Maybe it was soulful envy.' " –Buck Smeal for the At Tattler Texas, 1 September 1953.

1. The Library of Congress decided in the midst of a space-saving fit to save only “necessary” bits from its newspaper collections and to discard the rest. “We aren’t Mr. Borges”, one library staffer volunteered, “and we just thought that all of the other challenged stuff had to go”. The Library’s reduction removed 92% of the newspaper collection “bulk”. Another source said that “if you look at it in one way, what we dumped was mostly nothing, ‘cause the printed page is mostly white space and unused”.

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1043

What,exactly, is going on in this photo? Yes they're all helping to sell the delightful and refreshing pop soda called "7 Up", but there's something just off with each and every element.

000 7 up absurd017

What is the story with the girl/woman on the trike, holding her bottle of pop as though it was the sudsy stuff? She also must be at least 16 years old and looks a little possessed in having to wear those clothes in that pose. She's staring into the chest of the kid at left, who for some reason is wearing a heavy and shiny green coat there in the basement rumpus room. Manchild Junior takes careful aim with his big dart as dad sits staring at the dartboard, waiting for his eyes to collect the darts as though they were magnetic dust in his eyeball magnet. Mom seems to be plasticized and propped up against the fireplace, her bottle at an odd angle used only for toasting. In All of this extends to the bottle, which hasn't a single word on it, unless you cleave away the "up" from "7up"–there's just truncated words and an incongruous woman in a bathing suit on the label.

In short: the photo has a low-suburban mid-creep distant-color affect, kind of like a human landscape version of a Joel Meyerowitz photograph.


JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 976

(On seeing the morning’s rising sun): “Looks like light to
me.” SpongeBob SquarePants

“All the fifty years of conscious brooding have brought me
no closer to answer the question, 'What are light quanta?' Of course today
every rascal thinks he knows the answer, but he is deluding himself.” A. Einstein

“Are not gross bodies and light convertible into one
another, and may not bodies receive much of their activity from the particles
of light which enter into their composition?” I. Newton, Opticks,
1704, Query 30.

Mar 12 #51

Depicting the capacity of sight and nature of light has been
both an easy and a knotty problem in the history of science. Over the
successive theories on the basis of light the artistic presentation of the
phenomenon has been generalized (generally) in a very simple way: by straight lines. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that,
the lines are just parenthetic place-holders suggesting direction, not actual
descriptors of what light “looks” like.

There are literally hundreds if not thousands of images printed 1550-1850 to call upon to make this point, and I've selected but a few. The first belongs to Jesuit astronomer Christoph Scheiner and which appeared in his Oculusm hoc est: fundamentum opticum...,printed in Innsbruck in 1619. His work is an out-and-out landmark in the history of optics, physiological optics and ophthahlmometry, and provided a springboard for two generations following him, not the least of whom was Rene Descartes. The illustration above is the book's frontispiece, and features four camera obscuras demonstrating four principles of the eye, the middle ground of which is a beam of light

Rene Descartes depicted the interpretation (in his Principles of Philosophy of 1644) of light and its physiological reaction in the brain as follows:


the lines of sight depicting binocular vision, observed (and compressed) by the eye's "particles" and processed by the pineal gland which in turn manipulate the "fluids" in the control of nerves and muscles.

Another example of even greater fame than the iconic image by Descartes is that of the diagram showing the connection between color and its reflective index by Isaac Newton, appearing in his Opticae of 1706.

Mar 12 newton

Another fine example comes from Zacharias Traber's (1611-1679) beautifully illustrated classic of optics (and physiological optics) , Nervus Opticus sive Tractatus Theoricus..., published in Vienna in 1690. Traber is a great collector and synthesizer of the work done during and before his time, using the work of Descartes, Kepler, Schott, Kircher, Scheiner and Aguilon (for example), and then further implementing their ideas especially in the areas of color theory and light refraction. The image certainly reflects Jesuit Traber's religious training, depicting the holy source of light (originating with the almighty force) which directs it to the sun; the light then is left to the inquisitive and playful hands of cherubs who reflect and magnify it, as well as use it to start a fire (from the condensing lens) and observe it through a telescope. The main cherub empties a sack containing a number of different optical tools, no doubt for the playful brethern beneath.

Mar 12 trauber

And then of course there is the great, unstoppable, polymathic and sometimes incorrect Jesuit Athanasius Kircher. This image appears in his masterwork Ars Magna lucis et umbrae, printed in Amsterdam in 1671, which deals with light and shadow, optical illusions, color, refraction, projection and distortion, sundials, mirrors, as well as astronomical subjects. Most of these subjects are clearly seen in the engraved frontispiece to the work (below), the source of all of the "rays" of light coming from the godhead, relayed through a telescope, reflected from a mirror, and gathered in a camera obscura.

Mar 12 kirch

Other interesting images from the Kircher include this spotlight.

Mar 12 krirch detail long

Mar 12 krirch black detail

JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 765 Blog Bookstore

A great job done with access to nothing, and a terrible job don e with access to everything.

Part I:

++00++ 9.23 petrol town 005

The town of Windhoek (at least so-named by Imperial Germany, which moved in in 1884, claiming this patr of Africa for themselves against British desires) was growing at the edge of the Namib desert–a mile high, 14 inches of rain a year, an situated
between two rival tribes, and for 35 years under the control of
Germany. Barren, dry, and far from anywhere. This
report appears in the Illustrated London News for 10 December 1932,
a story from a German traveler at Windhoeck 13 years after Germany was
forced to give everything up after the terrible Great War.

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And what this traveler sees is quite shocking, spectacular: Windhoeck had become a town made of discarded tin petrol cans. Thosuands of cans flattened and battered and fashioned and fabricated to fit over wooden skeletons–and then whitewashed–all arranged around a city plan of roundabouts and looking vaguely like Washington DC in plan.

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In a place with little resource the people living there were applying whatever they could that made sense to its fullest use–the found, discarded petrol tins were of excpetional utility, rewriting a certain amount of economic theory of value. The vernacular landscape for this community was intelligent and lovely, making artful use of scarce commodities.

Part II:

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The National Mills Company
catalog—purveyor of bathroom and plumbing supplies to the trade of Fort Wayne, Indiana—of 1939 is like
a trip back in time to grandma’s Great Barrington bathroom, comforting and sort of
pleasing, until you get to the color illustrations. It is there that the Turner colorized
classic movies seem to have gone and spewily bled their incredible neo-technicolor blood—colors
not found in nature do battle amongst themselves in brilliantly chromo-deranged
bathrooms and kitchens.

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These things
certainly seem benign enough in black and white (and gray tones), but in color
we are left with “oh, wow!” reactions as the cones in our eyes plead for mercy,
and anyone who ever lived with any ability of color sense goes a-spinning in
the ethereal night, corkscrewing themselves into a-chromatic corners of the

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Seeing these right on the
heels of my post on beautiful, simple vernacular architecture of found objects
makes these samples of bourgeoisie pre-war post-depression excess all the more awful,
like that knowing lump in your throat when you know something is going to go
badly. The experimentation with extreme
color for the middle class in the National Mills catalog seems to have survived
itself, many of these colors were evidently sold In big enough numbers to warrant
reappearances in the next few catalogs.
Go figure.

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