“The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick,” Charles Darwin wrote in 1860. The peacock’s tail so confounded Darwin because the beautiful coloring and the elaborate display did not fit neatly into his theory of evolution. What possible reason could there be for such a manifestation of color? The answer, for Darwin, lay in the concept of attraction. Attraction to color has mesmerized humans since the dawn of time. Some of nature’s most flamboyant colors can be seen in the everyday landscapes of our planet, while others lay hidden, kept under wraps, patiently waiting underground.
The scientific explanations for color in minerals are well documented, though still not fully understood. There stand two generally accepted theories. The first theory is that chromophoric elements bind together within a crystal to create color. For example, the chromophoric element present in an amethyst is iron, creating its distinctive violet color. The second theory revolves around the defects within the atomic structure of a crystal, known as color centers. These color centers change the way light is absorbed and reflected within the crystal.
Color psychology suggests that different colors affect us in a multitude of ways. That colors can trigger unconscious emotional responses. With most minerals buried deep beneath us, what purpose does their coloring serve? Why are these crystals so rich in color? These questions are difficult to answer, but the allure of their raw beauty is undeniable.
We are inextricably attracted to colorful minerals. They stimulate our senses and excite us. This primal attraction is uniquely human. In its most simple expression, it elicits joy.
Most people, whether consciously or unconsciously, start their mineral collections driven by this attraction. The miner that pulls an exquisite crystal out of the mud, might not understand the chemistry, the crystallography or the history of the crystal, but he will instantly be attracted to the crystal’s beauty. For him it is wondrous and infinitely appealing. Through the ages this dynamic has been the rule. Minerals have been cherished for their adornment and their powers in the afterlife. Fairly swiftly, it was established that minerals can also be used to create paints. Thereby helping humans express their creativity. The paints used in early cave paintings were created by using ochre, primarily made from limonite. This very human step of using minerals to create art does not answer the larger existential questions of attraction, however, it does help us track the long relationship that we have had with nature’s hidden wonders.
The Underground Hues exhibition showcases this limitless palette of the mineral kingdom.
- Stuart Wilensky