If you are a visual person or a “picture thinker”, this one is for you. The recent week-long campaign on social media using the hashtag ColorOurCollections strikes me as a fun initiative. Led by the New York Academy of Medicine, the campaign invited cultural heritage institutions to release black and white images from their collections and to invite coloring. The campaign started on 1 February. Initially, 30 or so institutions were to take part. Every day that number increased, and by the end of the week NYAM reported that more than 215 libraries and cultural institutions had participated, representing 7 countries (United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Spain, Australia, and New Zealand). Not only was the institutional participation remarkable, the images themselves were amazing and quite diverse, pulled from natural histories, botanicals, children’s classics, anatomical atlases, university yearbooks, patents, and more.
It was fun for me to realize that the Chemical Heritage Foundation, an associate organization of IUPAC based in Philadelphia, embraced the campaign, joining libraries, archives, and museums including the Bodleian, Smithsonian, and the US National Archives. CHF shared images taken from the Othmer Library rare books collection and in particular from Elias Ashmole’s Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum (1652), Michael Maier’s Atalanta Fugiens (1618), and John Gerard’s The Herball, or, Generall Historie of Plantes (1633). The coloring pages were shared on various social media platforms, such as the library’s Tumblr blog, Othmeralia,  and CHF’s Twitter account, where they elicited numerous and enthusiastic responses. Submissions were received from an audience ranging from elementary school children to professionals in the sciences.
The offering of such images is, as Jill O’Neil put it, “more than a frivolous repurposing of content” . In her blog post, she reviewed the benefits that the campaign offered to libraries, how nicely it came about as the fruit of collaborative effort, and how it succeeded in engaging with new communities. NYAM’s plan is to make this campaign an annual event for the first week of February.
As a way to take part, and in salute of CHF’s participation, it is a pleasure to reprint, here in Chem Int, CHF’s selection from Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum,* and invite you to color it. The timeless drawings deserve another look, and not only in February! My thanks to Shelley Wilks Geehr, director of the CHF Roy Eddleman Institute, for encouraging the idea. I hope that, in the image and all its intricate details, you will also uncover a simpler incitation to visit your nearby library, and if you are actually visiting Philadelphia, maybe this coming August for the next ACS meeting, please do take a few hours and venture to CHF. You will not be disappointed!
*Right: Cut from Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, by Elias Ashmole, 1652. In Ashmole’s collection, the cut is presented on page 102, side-by-side with Thomas Norton’s remarkable The Ordinall of Alchimy chapter VII and in which the philosopher has a discourse on Totum consistit in ignis regimine. Photo © Conrad Erb
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