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Student Delves into Color Theory Through Personal Interactions


Though the human eye processes hundreds of different shades and tones every day, color might not be a subject that is often considered by the average individual. Art major Lily Anne Johnston ’16, however, is exploring color theory this summer in order to paint a vivid picture of Upstate New York’s regional color history.

Johnston’s project, titled “The Exploration of Color: Theory and Intuition meets Pigment Acquisition and Experimentation in the Studio,” looks at how communities such as the Shakers and the Oneida Community Mansion House both collected the necessary materials and then created dyes for their fabrics and textiles.

“I’m exploring regional textile history as it pertains to cotton, silk and, most importantly, wool,” she explained. To achieve this, Johnston is utilizing the Special Collections section of Hamilton’s library, researching texts ranging from old Shaker dye recipes to instructional manuals on the methods necessary to dye fabrics.

about Lily Johnston ’16

Major: Art

Hometown: Leawood, Kansas

High School: Barstow School

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“A lot of my process is done through experimentation,” she said. Part-and-parcel of that experimentation is the process of sourcing the materials needed for dye-creation.

This includes collecting plants and berries from around campus: some through foraging, such as dandelions and buttercups, and some through purchases from local farmers, such as beets, berries, cabbages and more.

Johnston said she has gained more than just technical knowledge of the dye-making process.

“The biggest impact of this project has been taking field trips to the Golden Paint Factory in New Berlin, Liberty Ridge Farm and Gardens in Verona, Hillcrest Farms in Sauquoit, and local farmers markets,” she claimed. “It has been so amazing talking to the individuals who had a hand in providing me with my materials. I have loved cultivating these personal relationships.”

Johnston’s claims that while she has always been interested in the histories of the Oneida and Shaker communities, a passion for the personal aspect of art has been a primary driver of her project.

“I love learning about personal narratives and talking with people, so going to farmers markets and visiting local sheep and Alpaca farms was a natural step in the process of collecting natural materials with a very personal touch.”

Johnston is pursuing her project through an Emerson Foundation grant and under the advisement of Associate Professor of Art Rebecca Murtaugh.

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