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-   -   A Tale of Two Books (http://www.turkotek.com/VB37/showthread.php?t=742)

Yaser Al Saghrjie November 29th, 2010 04:04 PM

A Tale of Two Books
Like many men over forty - especially those whose work requires a lot of attention to colors - I am going partially color-blind. To make up for this aging problem, I decided to read as much of the available literature that has been written about dyes and colors as my time permits.

One trip to some book stores and I came back with titles that included Koekboya by Harald Bohmer, Indigo by Jenny Balfour-Paul, Color a Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay, Comprehensive History of Madder Red by Robert Chenciner, A Perfect Red by Amy Butler Greenfield, The Root of Wild Madder by Brian Murphy and others. I must admit that in spite of my infatuation with colors as a visual language, reading the written language about those same colors that have consumed my sight is overall a very boring trip through dry life-less scientific colorless desert.

Two books, however, broke this norm; namely the last two mentioned above. I thought so from the minute the guy in the bookshop told me apologetically that they are not "professional readings about dyes". In A Perfect Red, Amy makes the history of cochineal an interesting thriller that hardly feels like reading about the insect or the dye that is obtained from it, instead of that the book makes it a humanitarian study of the toil of the dyers, the lavish luxury of the upper classes, discovering new lands and their treasures, greed, curiosity, different ways of life, different legal systems, adventures, competition and so on and so forth. The book ends and you still want it to last longer. One gets to learn about the dye, the insect that produces it, those who introduced it to us, etc., but unconsciously. The book is by no means a technical one that tells the chemical structure of the colors particles nor how mordant work. Very few of us want to learn about that anyway.

In The Root of Wild Madder, Brian fascinated me with his childish naïve pursuit of "understanding the oriental carpet". He managed to keep the torch of curiosity kindled inside him for years and managed to be above the material values he was raised with. He managed to find the very subtle line that ties rugs to poetry. Neither the sufferings of the Afghan war nor the thugs in the bazaar of Isfahan nor the rug that he overpaid for stopped him from his love to learn more; quite the opposite, he turned those to motives to keep his interest alive. One doesn't feel that the book is teaching anything: neither about a dye nor anything else. One only gets the feeling that one is in the presence of a child breathlessly sharing an experience.

I strongly recommend reading the two books especially by those who give more weight to human experience than they do to "scientific facts", like myself.

Pierre Galafassi December 1st, 2010 06:32 PM

Hi Yaser,

I haven't yet read "The root of wild madder", but indeed "A perfect red" is an outstanding and fascinating book. A travel in time! As not everybody realizes, Central American cochineal, once was about as important for spanish economy as all the silver and gold mines of Mexico and Peru.
Thanks for the lead.

Although a minor member of the odd little sect of scientists myself, I can easily understand that Chemistry, Botanic and even History are perfectly boring for many Turkotekers and that therefore you are surely right: Prof. Cardon's and dr. Böhmer's books will not appeal to all.:angelic:

Best regards

Joel Greifinger December 1st, 2010 08:38 PM

Hi Yaser and Pierre,

I also found both A Perfect Red and The Root of Wild Madder enlightening and entertaining. While I wouldn't class Koekboya as a similarly "good read", I nonetheless found that working through Bohmer's text enhanced my understanding of my own reactions to color in textiles and more generally. I didn't at all feel as though I was traveling through a "dry life-less scientific colorless desert." Good science writing, like all good writing, deepens our perception of the world.

I don't find the dichotomy between "human experience" and "scientific facts" too useful, since the study of human experience can yield scientific facts and the practice of science (both formal and informal) is a quintessential human experience.

Joel Greifinger

Yaser Al Saghrjie December 14th, 2010 02:33 PM

hi joel;
i wish i could get rid of my science related complex but it looks like when it comes to dyes even Ethel Mairet shares my view; in her book Indigo Jenny Balfour-Paul quoted her saying: " dying is an art; the moment science dominates it, it is an art no longer, and the craftsmman must go back to the time before science touched it, and begin all over a gain." page 115

Steve Price December 14th, 2010 03:35 PM

Hi Yaser

Using natural dyes is an art. The physical and chemical explanations of how and why the artisans get the results that they do are science. You don't have to know that fuchsine is a triphenylmethane dye to know that it fades when exposed to strong light. But you do have to know something about the interactions of such compounds with light to understand why it fades.


Steve Price

Manfred Bieber September 6th, 2012 02:13 PM

Hi Yaser,
in the last 30 years I spent a lot of time with nomads and countryside people
in Anatolia concerning with handling methods of natural dyeing.
Perhaps you cab find interesting hints under my website: www.exoriente.de

Lloyd Kannenberg September 6th, 2012 10:30 PM

Hi Yaser and all,

A reference book like Boehmer's "Koekboya" that provides some amusing moments is "The Dyer's Companion", by Elijah Bemiss, first published in 1806 and reprinted by Dover Books. Not only does it include an enormous number of recipes for making "natural" dyes, it also provides cures for dropsy, cancer, hydrophobia, dysentery, cholera, St. Anthony's fire (?), consumption, and other maladies. Who could ask for more?

Lloyd Kannenberg

PS I've passed three score and ten years.

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