When I was 3-years-old, my brother was born. When my mom went into labor (of course, in the middle of the night), I was dropped at the neighbor’s while my dad whisked her to the hospital. The next morning, my kind neighbor asked if I wanted an egg for breakfast. I gladly accepted, but the only egg I had ever eaten was scrambled, as that was my father’s preference. I still remember that fried egg, with its yolk a far deeper yellow than I had ever experienced. I was entranced. Thus, began my fascination with color.
My dad sold and serviced commercial signs for a living, so I was interested in letterforms from an early age. A spiral-bound volume with different colors of type over different colors of background (that my dad had for discussing choices with clients) fascinated me. I still have it.
When I graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in psychology, I was rather at loose ends, and so returned to school at Eastern Michigan University to earn an art degree. It was at this point that my father asked what took me so long to do what I really wanted to do.
My first semester, I took the equivalent of Hillsdale’s History of Art, Renaissance to Modern, Basic Design. Suddenly, all my coursework on perception, sensory functions, and visual thinking had a much more practical application. I was hooked. Mixing colors for my Basic Design final project, which took about 180 hours of work, was pure delight — except for that pesky deadline.
As time went on, I delved into watercolor painting and into textiles, where my love of color could express itself through pattern development. Weaving allowed me to work with color as a physical object, choosing red yarns to place next to blue yarns to allow the eye to blend them into violet. Printing fabric yardage with complex hue, value, and intensity runs gave me an opportunity to explore my knowledge of color theory with sheer layers of fiber reactive dyes. My fascination with layers, and their ability to both hide and to reveal, led me to make art quilts.
I’m still dyeing sheer fabrics, and layering them to create complex color arrangements. I can’t imagine not making art. God created us in His image, which I think means he wants us to create, too. And if you are struggling to find proof of the existence of God, I can’t imagine anything more convincing than color. We live in a world with color: What a miracle that is.
Barbara Bushey is a professor of art at Hillsdale College
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