British author, adventurer to take WMU audience on a journey

Contact: Mark Schwerin
Photo of Victoria Finlay.

Finlay with Getty pigments

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—British author and world traveler Victoria Finlay will take a local audience on an unusual journey to faraway places when she speaks later this month as part of the University Center for the Humanities spring series at Western Michigan University.

Victoria Finlay, the author of three popular non-fiction books, will speak at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 30, in 1910 Sangren Hall. Her presentation, titled "How to Travel Through the World's Paintbox," is free and open to the public.


From the ultramarine mountains of Afghanistan to the sacred ocher mines of Australia, via cochineal bugs in South America, poisoned wallpaper in England, and the trail of a strange Indian watercolor supposedly made "from the urine of cows fed with mango leaves," Finlay talks about some of her adventures to discover the secret histories of paint and dyes.

Finlay's book "Color: A Natural History of the Palette" involved visiting some of the amazing places historical colors came from, including Afghanistan, to find the rocks that were once ground into massively expensive ultramarine paint. "Jewels: A Secret History" involved other adventures, including crawling, alone, down Cleopatra's almost lost emerald mines and finding a tiny, flawed, but superbly green crystal. "The Brilliant History of Color in Art," published by the Getty Museum in November 2014, was named the Huffington Post's top art book for that year.

A journalist, Finlay spent 12 years in Hong Kong during the handover, first as news reporter, then as arts editor of the South China Morning Post. For the past decade, she has worked for the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, started by Prince Philip 20 years ago to encourage religions around the world to be leaders in environmental action. She has a master's in social anthropology from St. Andrews, and more recently a master's in creative writing from Bath Spa University.

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