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Color at Cooper

An exhibit in the library atrium, on view August-October 2023

In 1960 the Cooper Union’s centennial was celebrated with an exhibit called The Logic and Magic of Color, brought to life through collaboration between The School of Art & Architecture (one school at the time), The School of Engineering, the Cooper Union Museum (now Cooper-Hewitt), and the Cooper Union Library. The exhibit was a kaleidoscope of Cooper passions, featuring art, machines, and historical objects; some created by Cooper students and faculty, and some borrowed from storied institutions and organizations including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Sears Roebuck, and General Electric. In Cooper tradition, the exhibit was free and open to the public.  

In The Logic and Magic of Color, we see two goals of The Cooper Union come together: interdisciplinarity and accessible public education. Both have been central to the purpose of the Cooper Union since we opened in 1859, offering night courses in math, philosophy, design, chemistry, drawing, singing, and debate; a daytime School of Design for Women; a public Reading Room; and the Great Hall, booked almost every night with free events on everything from abolition to sea life to laughing gas to—oh, here it is again—color: the Cooper Union booked physicist Ogden Rood to lecture on color theory in 1884. 

Once you start looking for it, color pops up throughout Cooper history: in a professor’s shirt choice, a student’s rendering of warp and weft, the green start and red stop buttons of a machine. It makes sense: color is a touchstone for the fields of art, architecture, and engineering—the three disciplines that have come to define a Cooper education 164 years after our founding. We are the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, and both science and art are advanced through the exploration, study, and celebration of color.  

This exhibit builds off a talk given by the Cooper Union Library at ISCC Color Impact 2023 

Logic & Magic of Color exhibition catalog, 1960 

The Cooper Union photograph collection, RG.015; The Cooper Union Archives and Special Collections. 

Photograph of students sketching in Cooper Union Museum, 1921 

Records of The Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration, RG.004; The Cooper Union Archives and Special Collections. 

A spectrophotometer for measuring the wavelengths of color; Logic & Magic of Color exhibit, 1960 

The Cooper Union photograph collection, RG.015; The Cooper Union Archives and Special Collections. 

Handwritten announcement of “A Free Museum for the Study of the Arts of Decoration,” 1897  

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum 


Art & Architecture Librarian

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Mackenzie Williams
Subjects: Architecture, Art

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