Thursday, June 2, 2016


Self-Portrait Dedicated to Paul Gauguin' by Vincent van GoghThe striking green color in 'Self-Portrait Dedicated to Paul Gauguin' by Vincent van Gogh is made with the aid of arsenic. (Photo: Vincent van Gogh/Wikimedia Commons)
Our obsession with color goes way back: Prehistoric people mixed plant colors, and during the Middle Ages, the only way to achieve a brilliant blue was from Lapis lazuli, a deep blue stone found only in Afghanistan. (It was more valuable than gold for a time.)
At Harvard's Fogg Art Museum, Edward Forbes, considered a father of conservation in the United States, was interested in colors as a way to authenticate paintings. In the process of figuring out if a classic Italian painting really was what its seller said, he collected and the could later reference his own pigment collection, which eventually grew to more than 2,500 examples. Each one had its own history, including where it came from, how it was made, and how it was used.
This video explains more about the museum and its color collection:

Forbes ran the museum until 1944, but his pigment library is still used today; in fact, those colors have been added to modern 20th and 21st century colors. "We use our instruments in the same way that forensic scientists do," says Narayan Khandekar, who now oversees the collection and directs the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies at the Harvard Art Museums. "We examine and find out what we can about the key compounds that will tell us the material's origin," Khandekar told Fast Company.
According to the article: "For example, their work was instrumental in proving that a Jackson Pollock painting 'rediscovered' in 2007 was actually a fake, after pigment analysis revealed that a specific red color was manufactured 20 years after the artist's death. The color, Red 254, was a by-product of a chemical reaction first documented in 1974; it's also nicknamed 'Ferrari red.'"
Many of the stories of a color's origins are fascinating. Here are a few from the pigment library:

Arsenical green

To get a gorgeous shade of emerald green (an incredibly popular color during the late 1800s) arsenic was needed to create the crystalline powder copper acetoarsenite, which is as toxic as it sounds. The Fogg Museum’s own “Self-Portrait Dedicated to Paul Gauguin” by Vincent van Gogh contains it. "Inexpensive to make, the color became a popular shade for household paint near the end of the 1800s and into the early 1900s, but its fumes could prove deadly. Later, the inorganic compound was used in insect repellant," as Khandekar details in the audio clip below for the Harvard Gazette:

Synthetic blue

To extract blue color from lapis lazuli, the rock had to be ground into a powder that was fine enough to use as a dye, but not too big, which wouldn't leave enough color behind. Mined in Afghanistan, the lapis would be used as color in many medieval paintings — and it was so valuable that it “often warranted its own budget line in agreements,” says Khandekar.

Crimson and Lithol red

“We found that when you tried to fade Lithol red as a powder, it was incredibly stable, but when you mixed it with ultramarine blue and a binding medium, it became incredibly light-sensitive. Our analysis helped us understand what was going on with the paint,” said Khandekar. “To be able to treat and best look after works of art, you need to know all the things that are going on with them, and the Forbes Pigment Collection helps us do that.”

For more clips and stories about colors including why purple is "royal" and what makes metallics shiny, check out the Harvard Gazette's full story on the pigment library.

Vincent (Starry, Starry Night) - Don McLean

Positively Van Gogh (Camilla verses in Studio) - Elston Gunn (early alias for Bob Dylan)

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Earth Hour 2016 in Pictures - We allowed Mother Earth to breathe for at least one hour in one year, we can do better!

Major landmarks, businesses, and communities all over the world turned their lights off for one hour at 8:30 p.m., yesterday, Saturday, March 19th to raise awareness about climate change and show support for renewable energy.
Manhattan, Empire State Building
Las Vegas

London, The House of Parliament
London, Piccadilly Circus
Paris, Eiffel Tower
Vienna, The Schoenbrunn Palace
Rome, Vatican Basilica
Rome, The Trevi Fountain
Sweden, The Hyllie water tower in Malmo
The National Library of Belarus in Minsk
Indonesia, the business district in Jakarta
Japan, Tokyo Tower
Thailand, the Grand Palace in Bangkok
Moscow, the Bolshoi Kamenny Bridge, Kremlin in b/g 
Bejing, China, the National Stadium (Bird's Nest)
Australia, Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge

Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology Song), Marvin Gaye

Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell

Be The Rain, Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Human Impact has pushed Earth into the Anthropocene, scientists say (The Guardian)

The Guardian, January 7, 2016

New study provides one of the strongest cases yet that the planet has entered a new geological epoch

 Fishermen float onboard a boat amid mostly plastic rubbish in Manila Bay, the Philippines. Humans have introduced 300m metric tonnes of plastic to the environment every year. Photograph: Erik de Castro/Reuters

There is now compelling evidence to show that humanity’s impact on the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and wildlife has pushed the world into a new geological epoch, according to a group of scientists.

The question of whether humans’ combined environmental impact has tipped the planet into an “Anthropocene” – ending the current Holocene which began around 12,000 years ago – will be put to the geological body that formally approves such time divisions later this year.

The new study provides one of the strongest cases yet that from the amount of concrete mankind uses in building to the amount of plastic rubbish dumped in the oceans, Earth has entered a new geological epoch.

“We could be looking here at a stepchange from one world to another that justifies being called an epoch,” said Dr Colin Waters, principal geologist at the British Geological Survey and an author on the study published in Science on Thursday.

“What this paper does is to say the changes are as big as those that happened at the end of the last ice age . This is a big deal.”

Geological periods

He said that the scale and rate of change on measures such as CO2 and methane concentrations in the atmosphere were much larger and faster than the changes that defined the start of the holocene.

Humans have introduced entirely novel changes, geologically speaking, such as the roughly 300m metric tonnes of plastic produced annually. Concrete has become so prevalent in construction that more than half of all the concrete ever used was produced in the past 20 years.

Wildlife, meanwhile, is being pushed into an ever smaller area of the Earth, with just 25% of ice-free land considered wild now compared to 50% three centuries ago. As a result, rates of extinction of species are far above long-term averages.

But the study says perhaps the clearest fingerprint humans have left, in geological terms, is the presence of isotopes from nuclear weapons testing that took place in the 1950s and 60s.

Istopes common in nature, 14C, and a naturally rare isotope, 293Pu, are present through the Earth’s mid-latitudes due to nuclear testing in the 1950s and 60s.
More than half of all the concrete ever used was produced in the past 20 years. Photograph: Bobby Yip/Reuters “Potentially the most widespread and globally synchronous Anthropogenic signal is the fallout from nuclear weapons testing,” the paper says.

“It’s probably a good candidate [for a single line of evidence to justify a new epoch] ... we can recognise it in glacial ice, so if an ice core was taken from Greenland, we could say that’s where it [the start of the Anthropocene] was defined,” Waters said.

The study says that accelerating technological change, and a growth in population and consumption have driven the move into the Anthropocene, which advocates of the concept suggest started around the middle of the 20th century.

“We are becoming a major geological force, and that’s something that really has happened since we had that technological advance after the second world war. Before that it was horse and cart transporting stuff around the planet, it was low key, nothing was happening particularly dramatically,” said Waters.

He added that the study should not be taken as “conclusive statement” that the Anthropocene had arrived, but as “another level of information” for the debate on whether it should be formally declared an epoch by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS).

Istopes common in nature, 14C, and a naturally rare isotope, 293Pu, are present through the Earth’s mid-latitudes due to nuclear testing in the 1950s and 60s.

Waters said that if the ICS was to formally vote in favour of making the Anthropocene an official epoch, its significance to the wider world would be in conveying the scale of what humanity is doing to the Earth.

“We [the public] are well aware of the climate discussions that are going on. That’s one aspect of the changes happening to the entire planet. What this paper does, and the Anthropocene concept, is say that’s part of a whole set of changes to not just the atmosphere, but the oceans, the ice – the glaciers that we’re using for this project might not be here in 10,000 years.

“People are environmentally aware these days but maybe the information is not available to them to show the scale of changes that are happening.”

The international team behind the paper includes several other members of the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy’s Anthropocene working group, which hopes to present a proposal to the ICS later this year. The upswing in usage of the Anthropocene term is credited to Paul Crutzen, the Dutch Nobel prize-winning atmospheric chemist, after he wrote about it in 2000.

Key markers of change that are indicative of the Anthropocene. A shows new markers, while B shows long-ranging signals.

Prof Phil Gibbard, a geologist at the University of Cambridge who initially set up the working group examining formalising the Anthropocene, said that while he respected the work of Waters and others on the subject, he questioned how useful it would be to declare a new epoch.

“It’s really rather too near the present day for us to be really getting our teeth into this one. That’s not to say I or any of my colleagues are climate change deniers or anything of that kind, we fully recognise the points: the data and science is there.

“What we question is the philosophy, and usefulness. It’s like having a spanner but no use for it,” he said.

Gibbard suggested it might be better if the Anthropocene was seen as a cultural term – such as as the Neolithic era, the end of the stone age – rather than a geological one.

Evidence we’ve started an ‘Anthropocene’
  • We’ve pushed extinction rates of flora and fauna far above the long-term average. The Earth is now on course for a sixth mass extinction which would see 75% of species extinct in the next few centuries if current trends continue

  • Increased the concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere by about 120 parts per million since the industrial revolution because of fossil fuel-burning, leaving concentrations today at around 400ppm and rising

  • Nuclear weapon tests in the 1950s and 60s left traces of an isotope common in nature, 14C, and a naturally rare isotope, 293Pu, through the Earth’s mid-latitudes

  • Put so much plastic in our waterways and oceans that microplastic particles are now virtually ubiquitous, and plastics will likely leave identifiable fossil records for future generations to discover

  • Doubled the nitrogen and phosphorous in our soils in the past century with our fertiliser use

  • According to some research, we’ve had the largest impact on the nitrogen cycle in 2.5bn years

  • Left a permanent marker in sediment and glacial ice with airborne particulates such as black carbon from fossil fuel-burning

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Twas The Week After Christmas - Happy New Year!

Twas The Week After Christmas

Twas the week after Christmas 
and all through the house
Nothing would fit me, 
not even a blouse.

The cookies I'd nibbled, 
the eggnog I'd taste.
All the holiday parties 
had gone to my waist.
When I got on the scales 
there arose such a number!
When I walked to the store 
(less a walk than a lumber).

I'd remember the marvelous 
meals I'd prepared;
The gravies and sauces 
and beef nicely rared,

The wine and the rum balls, 
the bread and the cheese
And the way I'd never said, 
"No thank you, please."

So--away with the last 
of the sour cream dip,
Get rid of the fruitcake, 
every cracker and chip
Every last bit of food 
that I like must be banished
Till all the additional 
ounces have vanished.

I won't have a cookie-- 
not even a lick.
I'll want only to chew 
on a long celery stick.

I won't have hot biscuits, 
or corn bread, or pie,
I'll munch on a carrot 
and quietly cry.

I'm hungry, I'm lonesome, 
and life is a bore --
But isn't that what 
January is for?

Unable to giggle, 
no longer a riot.
Happy New Year to all 
and to
all a good diet!

New Year's Resolution, Camera Obscura

Gonna Make It Through This Year, Great Lake Swimmers

Funky New Year, The Eagles

New Year's Resolution, Otis Redding & Carla Thomas

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve, Ella Fitzgerald

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Very Native American Christmas to You!
NPR via the Library of Congress
A Native American family gathers around a Christmas tree in Montana, ca. 1900-1920.
With the spread of Christianity among some Native Americans in the early 20th century came certain Christmas rituals — trees and presents and jolly old Santa Claus — that were folded into traditional wintertime celebrations.
According to a 1909 account in the Tombstone Epitaph, members of the Gila River Indian Community — living on reservations in Arizona — were introduced to imported-from-Europe Christmas customs, such as St. Nicholas and Christmas trees. "It was the first time the Indians had ever seen the good old saint and they were highly amused and pleased."
The Yale Expositor of St. Clair County, Mich., reported on December 18, 1913 that for certain Sioux dwelling in South Dakota, Christmas and its accoutrements came through government-run schools. In each village, the Sioux collected funds for a feast. One member dressed up as Kris Kringle and made speeches and handed out presents. Native American children, the newspaper noted, "were quick to show interest in the Christmas tree."
In a round-the-nation story, The Winchester News from Winchester Ky., on Dec 31, 1910, wrote that the Christmas tree "brought to their notice by the palefaces, caught their fancy and today ...forms the center of nearly all the Indian Christmas celebrations."
Some Native Americans put a special spin on Christmas, incorporating traditions and tales that dated back ages. The Salish passed down a Christmas story of a "great and good man who came among their forefathers and performed miracles of all kinds, and on leaving them said he would return in the form of a large white coyote," the 1910 Winchester News noted. "They say he has appeared at different times, but has not been seen now for more than 150 years."
A 1904 San Francisco magazine cover, by Maynard Dixon, showing Santa Claus with a cowboy and a Native American man.
New York Public Library
In San Felipe Pueblo, N.M., the 1913 Expositor account pointed out, the holiday celebration among Native Americans living there was "a curious mixture of Christian and pagan customs."
Members went to the old mission church in the morning, held a feast at midday and then began "a fantastic and ceremonial dance that continues for half a week.
Today, explains Deborah A. Jojola, Curator of Exhibitions at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque – which represents the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico — "most of the Pueblo Nations within New Mexico have seasonal cycles for ceremonies and celebrations."
Many Pueblo communities celebrate the harvest, she says. And the day of the patron saint of the church and the village that "blends both native and Catholic expressions with a single purpose — the welfare of the people."
But through the decades, Christmas – which also combines old familiar folkways with Catholicism — has taken on added significance. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, she says, many of the Pueblos host special masses and dances.
The Jemez Pueblo, for example, celebrates with Buffalo Dances on Christmas Eve and early morning on Christmas Day. The Buffalo Dancers – featuring two men and one woman — make their way down from the nearby mesas into the Pueblo "bringing the Spirit of Prayer, Song and Dance," Deborah says. The woman "is said to represent Our Mother of all living things, She is young, beautiful and full of strength. She holds the utmost honor during the four day celebration."
In Isleta Pueblo, Deborah says, there is a winter dance held in the St. Augustine Church after the Christmas Eve mass. Many of the festivities are for all ages. "In virtually all ceremonies," Deborah says, "Pueblo children are integral participants. Indian parents rarely, if ever, need a babysitter for traditional ceremonial preparations or actual events."

The Christmastime dancing is led by elders, but at some point on the fourth day of the celebration — young children are invited to dance. For many, she says, "this is their first welcome celebration."


What Child is This - Native American Flute

Native American Christmas Music