Bill Long 6/9/06
Immersing Ourselves in the Sherwin-Williams Palette
When the friend of whom I spoke in the previous essay decided to have some rooms painted, she didn't, for some reason, study the history of Crayola crayons; rather she chose colors based on the Sherwin-Williams scheme. I eagerly turned to the firm's web site, and then followed links until I came to their stunning array of more than 1400 colors. For purposes of this essay, however, I will only examine a few of the colors in their "Historic Collection." S-W nowhere defines the term nor give a precise historical delimination of the period that "historic" refers to (what am I expecting, really?), so I will have to assume that "historic" refers to that period before things became "ultras" or "hots" or "bubble gum" this or that.
I noted with interest that dozens, if not hundreds of these 1400 colors, which are not in the "Historic Collection" are in what is called the "Martha Stewart Signature" collection. I didn't look, but I wonder if this collection now has colors like "Prison Pink" or "Incarceration Indigo." As one friends said to me once, in order to be a success in life, you have to bring elements of your past to your present reality. I hope Martha has learned that lesson.
Also absent from Sherwin-William's web site are the list of colors that were not adopted. We as consumers only get to see what officially passed muster at the company; just think of all those rejected hues, which are the paint equivalent to discarded film on the cutting-room floor. Could you imagine what some of those would be? I would venture to say that Chernobyl Red or Three Mile Island Green might not have made it. Perhaps Hiroshima Ash was suggested by someone. The possibilities go on and on.
Getting to the Historic Collection
The Historic Collection comprises 80 colors, mostly of lighter or pastel shades, which you can not only look at but also with which you also can "paint a room." No muss, no fuss. By doing online searches under individual colors you can also see which persons across the country have used these colors for Junior's or Missy's bedroom. Maybe one of the reasons Americans don't have as much sex as people from other countries (according to surveys) is that we spend our time painting.
You can tell it is a "Historic" collection because the colors don't have outlandish names. You can even understand why some of them are called what they are. "Chartreuse" and "Radiant Lilac" and "Holiday Turquioise" and "Appleblossom" and "Classic French Grey," for example, give a pleasing array of colors. I knew that "Chartreuse" was a "pale apple-green," but I didn't know that it was a term that came into English in 1866 as a "liqueur made by the monks of La Grande-Chartreuse," which was the head monastery of the Carthusians near Grenoble. It also has a meaning in cookery, as a fruit enclosed in jelly. I will stick with the paint.
I really do like the straightforward character of these historic colors. In addition to those listed you have, for example, "Silver Gray," and "Blue Sky" and "Classic Sand." I paused for a moment on that last color, however, wondering for a moment whether there were various kinds of sand. I wonder if a tot on a Long Island beach in the 1940s would have taken comfort if, when a friend of his had thrown sand in his eyes, his mother had said, "Well, Billy, don't cry. After all, it's 'classic sand.'"
But then there are the colors that begin to leave me in the dark, though there probably is an explanation for them. For example, why is it "Sheraton Sage" or "Queen Anne Lilac" or "Caen Stone"? The list goes on and on. There is "Roycroft Rose" and "Chelsea Mauve" and "Pewter Tankard." I am sorry, however, that when I saw that last color, the image of the tanker EXXON VALDEZ dumping its cargo in Prince William Sound, Alaska in March 1989. I know I wasn't supposed to think of this image, but I believe that I will never buy "Pewter Tankard" as a result.
Other Brief Musings
I was interested to see that S-W had a Chinese Red, while Crayola had an Indian Red. Hm. The latter had to be gotten rid of in 1999 because of political sensitivities. I wonder if the reason for S-W's "Chinese Red" had anything to do with political realities 50 years ago (after all, we called it "Red China"). Nevertheless, it stands proudly in the palette. It is a little darker than "Rembrandt Ruby." Instead of having "Indian Red," then, S-W has "Indian White." I wonder what is up here. Is the color red more prominent in India than white? Crayola just had the simple color "White" in the 48-crayon collection of 1948 (though black went back to 1903).
Three colors that sent me to the dictionary were "Crewel Tan," and "Majolica Green" and "Toile Red." Toile obviously is a French word, and it came into English in the 16th century as a type of cloth, but its most significant usage is in the phrase "toile de Jouy," a fabric for uphostery or drapery with a characteristic floral, figure or landscape design in one color. So, I suppose this is the red which is used when the color of a toile design is in red, but otherwise I am confused.
I love the word "crewel" in "crewel tan." It is the ancient spelling for "cruel," though I don't think this is what S-W had in mind. Crewel is also a "thin worsted yarn," which I suppose is closer to tan in color than anything else. Majolica, also spelled "Maiolica," is "any tin-glazed earthenware" in a Renassiance Italian design.
I have to conclude this essay, lest it spill over into a third. My favorite colors with which to end this essay are "Dard Hunter Green" and "Aristocratic Peach." I think the former is the only shade in the historic collection named after a person. Dard Hunter, born in Steubenville, OH in 1883, was a significant contributor to the Arts & Crafts movement of the early 20th century. This web site contains a nice tribute to the Dard [Ah, one of Dard's most significant designs was for a window at the Roycroft Inn. Remember above--Roycroft Red....Hm, maybe we are getting somewhere].
And then, with a color such as "Aristocratic Peach," I wondered only for a flitting moment why there wasn't "Bourgeousie Blue" or "Poverty-stricken Brown." But maybe they ended up in a heap with Chernobyl Red...
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long