Blue: The Changing Meaning of this Color
I just finished reading The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, a beautifully written story by Kim Michele Richardson. In the background, I can hear the news about the impending hurricane that will hit Louisiana in short order and the last days of the US military presence at Kabul airport. Ironically, the book and the news all involve people leaving their homes, albeit for vastly different reasons.
I had never heard of “blue” people until I read this book; I did not realize that our prejudice covers the rainbow. Unless one is white, every other color is unacceptable. Brown, black, red, orange, yellow and blue and everything in-between. How ironic that the many colors that enrich the beauty of the earth are the source of such discrimination.
The book is also about the power of books and the amazing role that books of all sorts can play in our lives — and our attachment to those who introduce us to them and encourage us to read them. Think back on who introduced you to books. For some it was in early life. For others it was in school. For others it was in adolescence. For others it was in college or the workplace. For others, it is librarians, who are to this day among my favorite people.
Libraries and Where I Live in DC:
For many, libraries became a refuge, a place to be where one could escape the harsh realities of one’s life. We entered and still enter libraries to discover, to find ways for our imagination to soar. Many (though sadly not all) librarians encouraged our curiosity, pointing our books that would be of particular interest and would capture our minds and hearts. Some librarians, often in hushed tones, saw in us things we did not see in ourselves. And, they allowed us to be transported to parts unknown.
Recently, I moved apartments in DC and I moved into a building, the ground floor of which is a library. How amazing is that? I live in a library — in a manner of speaking. Just the idea of so many books beside me (and below me) is enthralling. And, even though the Pandemic has limited my presence in DC, I can’t seem to give up my jewel of an apartment in a library. It has too much meaning. I can’t get rid of my books.
And, yes, books can reveal prejudice. They can be filled with venom. But, other books promote other stories that tug at our heart strings and move our minds to new ideas and ways of thinking. The Book Woman is an example of a book that insures that we will never see things in the same way again — in this case the color blue. That’s one powerful book.
Painting as a Related Theme
In my work, I write adult and children’s books and speak to many audiences and teach students at all ages and stages. Books surround me. My specialty is trauma, and there is an abundance of that in today’s world.
More recently, in an effort to exercise much needed self-care, I have started painting. Most of my paintings incorporate the color blue, although my palette is expanding slightly. The presence of blue is not a reflection of my mood; it is reflective of living on the ocean and incorporating its many shades of blue/green into my home.
But, here’s the most recent development that ties my painting to The Book Woman story.
Start here: I recently was reflecting with my partner on the paintings of Stephen Hannock. My partner and I had been discussing the Quabbin Reservoir and the places Hannock illustrated nearby in Western MA. Although I have not seen Stephen recently, I have always and still consider him a true friend. His works graced the college I led and I have poured over the books incorporating his works of art. He has shared his thoughts on art and life with me.
As important as the “luminosity” displayed in his work is, I have always been struck by the words that he incorporates into his art as well as the photos and images contained in some works. Often, he includes the name of his late wife and his daughter. His wife developed a brain tumor while pregnant and passed away when Georgia was just four. Think Honey or Henry or Jackson or Cussy in The Book Woman for a sense of the hardship of a child’s loss of a mother.
If you stand back from Hannock’s paintings, this writing and the images are invisible. It is only when one sees the paintings up close that one sees the writing and the story embedded within the painting. Yes, there are other artists who have some similar things; the cartoonist Hirschfeld incorporated his daughter’s name Nina in most of the works he produced. But, there is something deeply moving about Hannock’s multi-layered artworks that tell stories within them.
It just happened. I started incorporating words and musical notes into my paintings and an image too. Hannock does his writing my hand, something I cannot do. But, I have used sheet music and words from songs and images from my life and blended them into my paintings. The words aren’t all clear and letters are cut off but they tell a story for sure but only if one looks closely.
And, in many ways, while the paintings are public, the words are private. They are words the meaning of which is only clear to a small group. But, they have expanded my paintings and allowed them to tell a story in a broader way. Stated another way, paintings are also books and books are paintings. Our palettes take many forms.
Perhaps The Book Woman inspired it. Perhaps Hannock did. Perhaps my place in DC did. Perhaps my love of books fell into my new paintings. Beats me. But, whatever the cause, the story of blue within The Book Woman has changed me and in changing me, it has changed my art.
To end, here’s an example of my newest painting — with words and images embedded.
Blue and It’s Meaning
Blue, words and painting melded together with messages: reading matters; libraries and librarians matter; blue matters; layered meaning matters. We would be wise to see the many layers of meaning in The Book Woman. This amazing story and its focus on blue can and will change how we see each other and the color blue and the books we read and the stories we tell.
And, if we think about it enough, perhaps we can realize the power of prejudice and the power we need to overcome it.