A Visionary 115-Year-Old Color Theory Manual Returns to Print: Emily Noyes Vanderpoel’s Color Problems

Nobody can doubt that we can live in an age of screen-read­ing, nor that it has brought a few prob­lems along with its con­sid­er­able con­ve­niences. To name just one of those prob­lems, each of us reads on our own screen, and each screen repro­duces the infor­ma­tion fed into it to dis­play dif­fer­ent­ly. A col­or, for instance, might well not look quite the same to any giv­en read­er of an e‑book as it did to the design­er who orig­i­nal­ly chose it. This imbues with a new rel­e­vance the old dorm-room philo­soph­i­cal ques­tion of whether what I call “blue” real­ly looks the same as what you call “blue,” and at least the more con­trol­lable nature of old-fash­ioned print books takes the issue of screen vari­a­tion out of the equa­tion.

Hence the val­ue in bring­ing back to print cer­tain visu­al­ly-ori­ent­ed books, even when we can already read them on our screens. This goes espe­cial­ly for vol­umes like Emi­ly Noyes Van­der­poel’s Col­or Prob­lems: a Prac­ti­cal Man­u­al for the Lay Stu­dent of Col­or, which deals direct­ly with issues of col­or in the phys­i­cal world and its rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Van­der­poel, an artist and his­to­ri­an, first pub­lished the book “under the guise of flower paint­ing and dec­o­ra­tive arts, sub­jects that were appro­pri­ate for a woman of her time,” writes Colos­sal’s Kate Sierzputows­ki. But “the study pro­vid­ed an exten­sive look at col­or the­o­ry ideas of the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry,” and one whose tech­niques proved silent­ly influ­en­tial over time. “Many of the includ­ed stud­ies pre­dict design and art trends that wouldn’t occur for sev­er­al decades, such as a con­cen­tric square for­mat that pre­dates Joseph Albers’s Homage to the Square by fifty years.”

You can read a dig­i­tized ver­sion of Col­or Prob­lems at the Inter­net Archive (or embed­ded right above), but know that pub­lish­er The Cir­ca­di­an Press and Sacred Bones Records recent­ly raised well over $200,000 on Kick­starter to repub­lish the book in its full paper glo­ry. “With this new edi­tion we have tak­en metic­u­lous mea­sures to repro­duce the orig­i­nal arti­fact at an afford­able price,” says the pro­jec­t’s about page. “Work­ing with the His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety that Emi­ly Noyes Van­der­poel helped estab­lish, we are the first to invest the time, mon­ey, and love it takes to repli­cate this bril­liant col­lec­tion of col­or stud­ies accu­rate­ly. Using the most cur­rent dig­i­tal meth­ods and archival print­ing pro­duc­tion, we aim to final­ly do jus­tice to Vanderpoel’s for­got­ten lega­cy as vision­ary and pio­neer.”

This new edi­tion will also fea­ture an intro­duc­tion by design schol­ar Alan P. Bru­ton meant to “reflect on her incred­i­ble body of work from the van­tage point of 21st cen­tu­ry art his­to­ry and wom­en’s move­ments, help­ing to illus­trate that Van­der­poel remains one of the most impor­tant, under­rat­ed, and con­tem­porar­i­ly rel­e­vant artists of her time and of the last cen­tu­ry.” Had Van­der­poel pub­lished Col­or Prob­lems thir­ty years lat­er, writes John F. Ptak in his exam­i­na­tion of the book, “we’d call it some sort of constructivist/constructionist art form. 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.” Its repub­li­ca­tion will allow gen­er­a­tions of new read­ers, see­ing it in the way Van­der­poel intend­ed it to be seen, to come to con­clu­sions like Ptak’s: “I still do not know what this book is try­ing to tell me, but I do know that it is remark­able.”

via Colos­sal

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Werner’s Nomen­cla­ture of Colour, the 19th-Cen­tu­ry “Col­or Dic­tio­nary” Used by Charles Dar­win (1814)

A Pre-Pan­tone Guide to Col­ors: Dutch Book From 1692 Doc­u­ments Every Col­or Under the Sun

Goethe’s The­o­ry of Col­ors: The 1810 Trea­tise That Inspired Kandin­sky & Ear­ly Abstract Paint­ing

The Vibrant Col­or Wheels Designed by Goethe, New­ton & Oth­er The­o­rists of Col­or (1665–1810)

The Female Pio­neers of the Bauhaus Art Move­ment: Dis­cov­er Gertrud Arndt, Mar­i­anne Brandt, Anni Albers & Oth­er For­got­ten Inno­va­tors

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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