All Colored In

Sure, black-and-white photos are classic, but artworks in color aren't anything to sneeze at. Think of the allure of a newspaper when, instead of just black-and-white print staring out, there's an eye-catching color photo or illustration drawing a reader in. Fashion magazines would be far less influential. Atlases would be far less effective without the requisite blue and greens (otherwise, we'd all be driving in rivers).

The interesting part of color in print media is in the history. Take John James Audubon's The Birds of America. Illustrated in color by means of chromolithography (a process no longer in use that involves printing colors from a series of lithographic stones) followed by hand-coloring, the book is the largest color-plate book of the 19th century. Color-plate books before it, such as The City of Philadelphia.. . As It Appeared in the Year 1800, were printed using hand-colored copperplate engravings...and a great deal of time and effort.

So what, right? What's so great about these colorful tomes? Because today, we take color for granted. We throw away printed matter and garage-sale our coffee table books without care because they were easy to make and easy to buy. They're like frozen dinners. Mass-produced food and books--even audiobooks--fit right into our easy-prep lifestyles. It's digital vs. film, yeast vs. frozen pizza crust.

But don't misunderstand; it's not that progress and science are bad, but every so often it's nice, and right, to look back and take in all the work that got us where we are today. It's guys like Audubon and John Fisk Allen that made it possible for this paper to have a four-color cover.

Our point? The books mentioned and other rare illustrated (color-plate) books from the 19th century make up Stamped With a National Character: Nineteenth-Century American Color Plate Books at the Amon Carter Museum. And there's plenty of time to go pay respects to the techniques, artwork and dedication that made it possible for our mailboxes to fill up with fabulous rich colors when the monthly mags arrive. After tossing those, put a roast in the slow cooker and head out to Fort Worth to take in the artistic history. That would be far more appropriate than perusing the images on the Internet while munching on a Lean Cuisine.

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Merritt Martin
Contact: Merritt Martin