Green – The Promise of New Life

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“When the green woods laugh with the voice of joy, and the dimpling stream runs laughing by; when the air does laugh with our merry wit, and the green hill laughs with the noise of it.”

Lord Byron

Green

The primary colours of blue and yellow unite to create green. Green is the symbolic meaning for new life, resurrection, hope, fertility and environmental awareness.  In ancient Egypt, green was associated with the Nile, the source of regeneration and rebirth. In neighbouring Greece, Aristotle believed that green was placed somewhere between black, the symbol for earth and white, the symbol for water.  The Romans had special reverence for green as it was the colour  belonging to Venus, the goddess of gardens, vegetables and vineyards.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the neolitic people in northern Europe used the leaves of the birch tree to make inferior quality dyes. Archaeology, however, has not shed any light on how the ancient Mesopotamians were able to create their vibrant green costumes. Indeed, the production of green dyes remained illusive even in the middle ages.  It was not for want of trying.  They used ferns, plantains. Buckthorn berries, the juice of nettles and leeks, and the digitalis plant to name just a few, to produce a dye that was resistant to washing and sunlight.  A breakthrough came in the 16th century.  It was a two-step process, where cloth was first dyed blue with Woad, and then yellow with Yellow-weed.

The Green Knight was one of the most renowned characters in the King Arthur narratives. Legend portrays fairies, dragons and monsters as green. Beau Brummel, the famed British fashion icon, wore a green suit.  The Suffragettes used the colour green to symbolize hope.

Today, our earth is in need of hope.  Decades ago, Theodore Roosevelt said, “Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.” 

May we heed his warning…

“The world has changed.

I see it in the water.

I feel it in the Earth.

I smell it in the air.

Much that once was is lost,

For none now live who remember it.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

Reach for the Sky

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“There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.”
Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Listening

We look to the soaring blue of the heavens to experience a moment of respite, even imagining that we have wings to dance with the clouds. Traditionally worn by the Virgin Mary in Renaissance paintings, the colour blue has come to mean truth, wisdom, loyalty, peace, piety, spirituality and eternity.  Blue sets a high standard, resting serenely between violet and green on the visible spectrum, embracing the many shades and tints that come under its umbrella.

Blue dyes, exceedingly difficult to produce, were not used in art and decoration until long after the introduction of colours such as red, ochre, pink and purple.  The most primitive dyes came from plants, Woad and Indigo.  Europe relied on Woad, which became a staple in their dyeing industry.  Indigo from Asia and Africa, was supplied via India, believed to be the oldest centre of indigo dying in ancient times. Blue pigments come from the minerals Lapis Lazuli or Azurite.

Afghanistan was the mining and exporting power for Lapis Lazuli.  The exorbitant costs associated with caravan transport throughout the ancient world did not weaken demand, but it did prompt enterprising Egyptians to produce the first synthetic pigment, and change the dynamics of trade. “Egyptian Blue” combined silica, lime, copper and alkali, heating the mixture to 800 or 900 degrees. This was good news for the Egyptians who believed that blue protected them from evil. The Greeks chose Egyptian blue for the wall painting of Knossos. Romans, on the other hand, considered blue the colour of mourning and the symbol for barbarians.

From Pablo Picasso’s “Blue Period,” to the creation of “The Blues” music, to the discovery of blue jeans, our love affair with blue throughout the centuries has not diminished. We search the heavens and depths of our oceans to understand infinity.  Perhaps all we need to do it reach for it…

“The sky, I thought, is not so grand;
I ‘most could touch it with my hand!
And reaching up my hand to try,
I screamed to feel it touch the sky.”

Edna St. Vincent Millay, The Selected Poetry

 

Black – The Queen of Colours

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“I’ve been 40 years discovering that the queen of all colours was black.” 
Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Black Contrast

Black is the colour of night, of ebony and outer space.  Its power to envelop our world gives it a secretive, mysterious and enigmatic appeal.  Technically speaking, however it is not considered a colour at all; rather, it is the absence of or complete absorption of light.   Black achieved massive iconic appeal over the centuries and has come to symbolize night, sobriety, denial, authority, perfection and purity, wisdom and maturity.

Black was one of the first colours used by Neolithic artists on their cave drawings, a tradition carried on, but refined,  by the ancient Greeks.  Egyptians connected the colour black with the fertile black soil of the Nile Valley and their potent god of the underworld, Anubis, who took the form of a black jackal. Nótt, the goddess of the night for German and Scandinavian peoples, traversed the sky in a chariot drawn by a black horse.

Creating the colour black brought out the creative talents of our ancestors. Romans produced “Vine black” by burning cut branches of grapevines; they also burned and dried crushed grapes. On the other side of the world, the Polynesians burned coconuts to achieve the same results.  Soot collected from oil lamps produced what was appropriately named “Lamp black.”  Then there was “Ivory black” that was a concoction of charcoal power, oil and ivory.  “Mars black” was named for the god of war and patron of iron because of its content of synthetic iron oxides.

Black stands apart from the spectrum of the rainbow.  It serves as the contrast that enhances the beauty of all the other colours in nature. Perhaps that is why we are drawn to it singleness of purpose, its implacable statement of solidarity.

“I wore black because I liked it. I still do, and wearing it still means something to me. It’s still my symbol of rebellion — against a stagnant status quo, against our hypocritical houses of God, against people whose minds are closed to others’ ideas.” 

Johnny Cash, The Man in Black