Officially, it is known as the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies and it is located at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Unlike those in a conventional library, these shelves are filled with a vast collection of colour pigment samples housed in all shapes and sizes of vessels. It all began with Edward Waldo Forbes, the grandson of Ralph Waldo Emerson and a Harvard graduate, and his fascination with fine art. Forbes' efforts to authenticate classic European paintings gave him a greater understanding of the technique of applying paint which, in turn, encouraged him to systematically study pigments and art conservation.
The center's Forbes Pigment Collection consists of over 2,500 colour samples amassed from Forbes travels throughout the world. The pigments originated from a variety of sources, some of which are expected, such as plants and minerals – others less so, like insects and the urine of a cow. Equally as captivating as the cabinets displaying the curiosities, are the stories behind them. Fanciful names with intriguing histories, custom colours manufactured for famous artists, poisonous concoctions that were dangerous to work with and the detection of fake artworks through detailed paint analysis. This absorbing collection reminds us that the myriad of colours surrounding us in life each have their own tales to tell.