White snow is full of colors

Published 10:05 am Saturday, January 22, 2011

Column: Bev Jackson Cotter, Art Is…

It snowed again! I’m sick of shoveling! The roads are slick and scary! Did you see the snow piled in the center of Broadway and the side streets? Have you been reading about all of the accidents? I’m walking like an old duffer! Isn’t this the most beautiful winter you have ever seen?

Indeed it is beautiful, extraordinarily beautiful. White mounds on every surface — the top of the mailbox, the needles on the pine trees, the street lights, everywhere you look — beauty that only sparkling white snow can create.

When I was in high school, my friends and I walked everywhere, from our homes on the south side of town, to school, to football games, to the movies and the Big Dipper. Early one winter evening, we walked downtown to the Broadway Theatre on the corner of Broadway and College. I don’t remember the movie we saw, but I do remember walking through a wonderland of big gentle snowflakes. It was beautiful, just like some of the soft snows we’ve had this winter.

Look out the window, or better yet, bundle up in your down jacket, stocking cap and warm boots and go for a walk. Now look at the white snow. How many different colors do you see? In my white backyard, I can see tan reflections of the dried grasses along the lakeshore, multi-tones of gray in the snow drift shadows, a soft, deep green tint under the pine trees, and a hint of very light blue from the sky.

If these hints of color on white create a beautiful world, what do real colors do?

Colors create moods: red can mean excitement or even Santa Claus, yellow can mean awareness or school bus, green can mean growth or the warmth of spring and buds on the trees, pink can mean sweetness or a princess costume for a little girl, blue can mean peace and tranquility or your favorite lake scene, purple can mean confusion (a cross between the excitement of red and the peace of blue — I wonder why the Minnesota Vikings wear purple?), black can mean darkness or a starless night.

Josef Albers has written an interesting book called “Interaction of Color.” His theory is that all colors react to nearby colors and all change depending on their environment. A college color design class showed me just how variable colors are, and how each of us sees color in a different way. We all see a different red, yet call it red, and it is the same with all other colors and with white. Have you ever stood in front of the color charts in a paint store and wondered just which hue would perfectly match the new bedspread? Difficult? You bet!

A couple of years ago, I spent hours looking for fabric for dining room drapes. I had painted the walls a forest green and thought that finding the right material would be a cinch. It didn’t work out that way. Then, in frustration, I closed a sample book borrowed from a local store and was surprised to see a blue pattern that blended beautifully with the color on the walls. It only worked on that wall, anywhere else in the room the fabric was too blue. In spite of the wariness of the lady that was to sew the drapes, the combination works!

Albers states, “In visual perception a color is almost never seen as it really is — as it physically is. This fact makes color the most relative medium in art.”

Do you remember when angel hair was a popular Christmas tree decoration? It came in a bunch, like a prickly tuft of cotton, and you could pull it into a thin coating over all of your ornaments. It developed a circular pattern that glistened over the colored lights. Most people only used it a year or two because of the spun glass prickly feeling you got from handling it. It gave almost the same impression as a gentle snowfall on a winter night.

Are you thinking, “Bev, you are nuts? Snow is a pain. It is heavy, dangerous, very, very cold, and I can’t wait for it to disappear”?

You are right. Snow is all of those things, but it is also very beautiful. So, we are both right.

Bev Jackson Cotter is a member of the Albert Lea Art Center where the wonderful artistic variety of the annual All Member Show will be on display through Feb. 19.