12:01am

Wed April 20, 2011
Fine Art

Celebrating Green: As Color, As Concept, As Cause

Originally published on Wed April 20, 2011 8:04 am

Spring is far enough along in parts of the country that it seems appropriate to talk about the color of the season: green. It's a color that has come to take on many meanings — envy, ecology, money and more. A new exhibition at the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., celebrates green's symbolism. The show is called Green: The Color and the Cause.

In New Jersey, artist Nancy Cohen explored ecological green in the state's waterways. She traveled along the Mullica River, on foot and by boat, and "spent some time meeting with marine biologists and environmentalists," Cohen says. "The water is a brownish color because cedar trees leach into the water, and even though the water's clean, it has a kind of tea color. As the river progresses and moves toward the ocean, it becomes bluer and bluer."

Cohen translated what she saw into a sculptural installation (above) that runs some 35 feet along two walls of the Textile Museum — pieces of handmade paper, attached to wire frames, in varied shapes spill down the walls and onto the floor like water itself, fragile and strong.

In both concept and color, green is complex. "As an intellectual vibration / smack dab in the middle of spectrum / green can be a problem," observed Chicago vocal artist Ken Nordine.

One of the problems, years ago, was creating the color for fabrics. Back in the days before synthetic dyes, green was tricky to achieve. After blue — the water, the sky — green is probably the color we most see in nature. But there isn't a single plant that creates a really stable green dye, curator Lee Talbot explains, so the old masters had to get indigo and yellow from plants, and mix them together. The trouble was that yellow faded easily.

"So, for thousands of years, green was one of the most elusive colors in the spectrum for dyers," Talbot says. It took "a master dyer to get a really great green."

Over the years, green graduated from color to concept to cause. Waste reduction and recycling are big themes for the artists in this Textile Museum show. In a piece called "A Woman of Substance," Jackie Abrams recycles strips of worn-out silk blouses into coils, and twists them into a sculpted basket. William Knight took old tires he found strewn along the sides of the New Jersey Turnpike, shredded them and shaped them into a wall hanging. His piece evokes a terrible traffic snarl.

"Although it looks sort of random, it's very carefully thought out," says curator Rebecca Stevens. "He sees these as line drawings, and the fact that he could find a new use for this discarded material was very exciting to him."

Artist Jodi Collella asked friends and family to save the plastic bags used to deliver newspapers. Then she shredded them, spun them into a squiggly thread — and crocheted them into a half-dome that clings to a gallery wall like a shield. Not beautiful, exactly — but certainly thought-provoking — about all the things it means to be green.

In her 1962 book Silent Spring, environmentalist Rachel Carson wrote of "Earth's green mantle" — that tangle of plants that sustain life as we've known it. This spring, the show of green at the Textile Museum salutes the Earth, and respects it, artistically.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

At the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. the color of the season is green. As in moss, money, Ireland, Al Gore, envy and ecology. NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg says the new exhibition touches on much of that list. It's called "Green: The Color, and the Cause."

SUSAN STAMBERG: In New Jersey, artist Nancy Cohen went looking for the intersections between green, the cause, and water.

Ms. NANCY COHEN (Artist): I spent some time meeting with marine biologists and environmentalists and kind of traveling the river, hiking, taking boat rides.

STAMBERG: She was on the Mullica River, near Atlantic City.

Ms. COHEN: The water is a brownish color because cedar trees leech into the water. And even though the water's clean it has a kind of tea color. And as the river progresses and moves toward the ocean it becomes bluer and bluer.

STAMBERG: Nancy Cohen translated what she saw into a sculptural installation that runs maybe 35 feet along two walls of the Textile Museum - pieces of handmade paper attached to wire frames in varied shapes that spill down the walls and onto the floor like water itself, fragile and strong. And, at the same time, green.

For some, green, the color, is full of meanings...

(Soundbite of "Spoken Richly, an Intellectual Vibration: Ken Nordine - Colors")

Mr. KEN NORDINE (Voiceover/Recording Artist): As an intellectual vibration, smack dab in the middle of spectrum, green can be a problem.

STAMBERG: Chicago vocal artist Ken Nordine cited problems like stupidity, envy. But back in the days before synthetic dyes, green posed problems as a color.

Mr. TALBOT: It takes a master dyer to get a really great green.

STAMBERG: If you think about it, after blue - the water, the sky - green is probably the color we most see in nature. But Curator Lee Talbot says there's not a single plant that creates a really stable green dye. So the old masters had to get indigo and yellow from plants and mix them together. Trouble was yellow faded easily.

Mr. TALBOT: So for thousands of years, green was one of the most elusive colors in the spectrum for dyers.

STAMBERG: Green, the problematic color. And green, the cause, designed to address problems like the degradation of nature and waste.

Recycling is a big theme for the artists in this Textile Museum show. In a piece called "A Woman of Substance," Jackie Abrams recycles strips of worn out silk blouses into coils, and twists them into a sculpted basket.

Curator Rebecca Stevens says William Knight took old tires, shredded them, and shaped them into a wall hanging. Knight found the tires along a turnpike.

Ms. REBECCA STEVENS (Curator, Textile Museum): He lives in New Jersey.

STAMBERG: It looks like a traffic snarl. It looks like the worst snarl you'd ever get in your hair.

Ms. STEVENS: But it's interesting because although it looks sort of random, it's very carefully thought out. He sees these as line drawing. And the fact that he could find a use, a new use, for this discarded material was very exciting to him.

STAMBERG: Artist Jodi Collella asked friends and family to save those plastic bags used to deliver newspapers.

Mr. TALBOT: Then she took the bags, shredded them, spun them...

STAMBERG: Into a kind of squiggly thread and then crocheted them into a half-dome that clings to a gallery wall, like a shield. Not beautiful, exactly. But certainly thought-provoking about all the things it means to be green. A cause, a color that even makes frogs burst into song.

(Soundbite of song, "It's Not That Easy Being Green")

KERMIT THE FROG (Muppet): (Singing) It's not that easy being green. Having to spend each day the color of the leaves. When I think it could be nicer being red or yellow or gold, or something much more colorful like that...

STAMBERG: In her 1962 book "Silent Spring," the great American environmentalist Rachel Carson wrote of Earth's green mantle, that tangle of plants that sustain life as we have known it.

This spring, the show of green at the Textile Museum salutes the Earth and respects it artistically.

I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News, Washington.

(Soundbite of song, "It's Not That Easy Being Green")

MONTAGNE: And you can see some green images on display, some of which aren't exactly the color green, at NPR.org.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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