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Coloring the Great Collections


If you are one of the growing numbers of adults who have rediscovered coloring books, you’ll be happy to hear that now you can color treasured museum and library collections for free by downloading the sheets offered by cultural institutions as part of the #ColorOurCollections Coloring Event.

It began last month when the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) encouraged cultural institutions and crayon enthusiasts to join together for a social media campaign. Institutions such as NYAM, the Biodiversity Heritage Library, and the Smithsonian Libraries uploaded coloring sheets based on their collections for artists of all ages to fill in. Colorers were also encouraged to share their creations on social media by tagging the organization and using the hashtag #ColorOurCollections.

You can find a list of some of the resources that were made available for this event at OpenCulture; but to find the most up-to-date selections you should search #ColorOurCollections on social media sites such as Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook. NYAM’s #ColorOurCollections Pinterest Board has one of the best selections. One of the more creative offerings is the National Archives Coloring Book of Patents, a whimsical collection that includes drawings for a medieval themed candle holder and birthday cake dish, as well as a 1958 robot-themed amusement park ride!

Also available is an eight-page booklet of coloring pages that feature art from the Smithsonian’s “Color in a New Light” exhibition at the National Museum of Natural History, which began on January 23 of this year and will run through March 2017. The exhibit explores the theme of color through the vast collections of the Smithsonian Libraries, including rare books and Trade Literature materials. Sub-themes include the science and nature of color, spectrum analysis, camouflage, synthetic dyes, color models, and trends in products from cars to clothes.

Some of the artworks and artifacts featured in “Color in a New Light” include Sir Isaac Newton’s Opticks (London: 1704); Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Zur Farbenlehre [Theory of Colors] (1810); Michel Eugène Chevreul’s De la loi du contraste simultané des couleurs [On the law of simultaneous contrast of colors] (1839); Shinobu Ishihara’s The Series of Plates Designed as Tests for Colour-blindness (Tokyo: 1936); and Richard Waller’s Tabula colorum physiologica …” [Table of physiological colors] from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London (1686). Also on display will be objects such as early synthetic dyed silk (1860), a Bradley color wheel from the Milton Bradley Co. (1893–1898), and a model of Ford Model T (1915–1930).

The interdisciplinary companion website created for the “Color in a New Light” provides an instructive and engaging introduction to the themes found in the exhibition and opens it up to a wider audience.

All of these resources can be used to teach the science of color in the context of art and culture. They can also provide hours of challenging entertainment for coloring book aficionados of all ages. 


Image Credit: National Archives - Patent for Submarine Vessel, 1884.