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50 Shades of Gray from the First Comprehensive Guide to Color Naming

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Robert Ridgway was a famous ornithologist who wrote an eight-volume work on The Birds of North and Middle America. (Three more volumes were completed by a colleague after his death.) He saw a need for standardized color naming in ornithology and other sciences that had to classify large quantities of natural specimens, and published a system for identifying and naming 1115 colors in 1912.

Ridgway's Color Standards and Color Nomenclature was not the first attempt to standardize colors. Taxonomies of 100 to 400 color names had been published through the 19th century and more rigorous systems based on spectrum analysis or color-wheel placement had used symbols or numbers to represent exact combinations of color features (hue, tone, light, shade, etc.). Ridgway's, however, was the first to provide such a finely divided color categorization that also used words from natural language, which, he argued, despite their imprecision, were more useful to naturalists.

The book was printed with 1115 painstakingly produced color plates, including more than 100 shades of gray. The names for those grays include mellifluous terms like plumbeous (the color of lead), plumbago (a flower with lead-colored petals), glaucous (from the Latin/Greek for bluish-gray), vinaceous (wine-colored), cinerous (cinder-colored), and heliotrope (a flower with purplish petals). Varley is named for landscape painter John Varley and Payne after painter William Payne. After you read this list, you can proudly tell all your friends you were intellectually stimulated by reading 50 shades of gray.

1. Cadet Gray
2. Carbon Gray
3. Castor Gray
4. Cinereous
5. Clear Blue-Green Gray
6. Court Gray
7. Dawn Gray
8. Drab-Gray
9. French Gray
10. Glaucous-Gray
11. Dark Glaucous-Gray
12. Deep Glaucous-Gray
13. Gull Gray
14. Light Gull Gray
15. Hathi Gray
16. Heliotrope-Gray
17. Dark Heliotrope Slate
18. Iron Gray
19. Lavender-Gray
20. Lilac-Gray
21. Mineral Gray
22. Mouse Gray
23. Blackish Mouse Gray
24. Neutral Gray
25. Dusky Neutral Gray
26. Olive-Gray
27. Payne's Gray
28. Light Payne's Gray
29. Pale Payne's Gray
30. Pearl Gray
31. Plumbeous
32. Blackish Plumbeous
33. Plumbeous-Black
34. Dark Plumbeous
35. Plumbago Gray
36. Dark Plumbago Gray
37. Puritan Gray
38. Purplish Gray
39. Pallid Purplish Gray
40. Sky Gray
41. Slate Color
42. Slate-Gray
43. Slate-Black
44. Blackish Slate
45. Smoke Gray
46. Storm Gray
47. Varley's Gray
48. Vinaceous-Gray
49. Deep Vinaceous-Gray
50. Violet-Gray

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‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0
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Get Your GIFs Ready for This International Public Domain GIF-Making Competition
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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0

Excellent GIF-making skills can serve you beyond material for your clever tweets. Each year, a group of four digital libraries from across the world hosts GIF IT UP, a competition to find the best animated image sourced from public domain images from their archives.

The competition is sponsored by Europeana, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), New Zealand’s DigitalNZ, and the National Library of Australia’s Trove, all of which host millions of public domain works. The requirements are that the source material must be in the public domain, have a 'no known copyright restrictions' statement, or have a Creative Commons license that allows its reuse. The material must also come from one of the sponsored sources. Oh, and judging by the past winners, it helps if it’s a little whimsical.

The image above won the grand prize in 2015. And this was a runner-up in 2016:

via GIPHY

This year’s prizes haven’t been announced yet (although Europeana says there will be a new one for first-time GIF makers), but last year’s grand prize winner got their own Giphoscope, and runners-up got $20 gift cards. (Turns out, there’s not a lot of money in public domain art.)

Not an expert GIFer yet? You can always revisit the audio version of DPLA’s advanced GIF-making tutorial from last year.

The fourth-annual GIF IT UP contest opens to submissions October 1.

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