Earth Colors by Sarah Andrews. St. Martin’s Press, 2004.
The Frederic Remington Art Museum is not far from here, across the St. Lawrence River in Ogdensburg, New York. Remington (1861-1909) was an artist of some renown who drew, painted and sculpted scenes from the old American West in its last years. When I checked the library catalogue for books on Remington, a paperback titled Earth Colors popped up. My curiosity was piqued and I thought I’d give it a try.
Earth Colors is part of a mystery series featuring forensic geologist Em Hansen. In this outing, Em is called upon to investigate a possible fake Remington. Her task is to determine whether the paint pigments used in the painting indicate a forgery or a genuine Remington original. However, Em is suspicious of her new client, the shifty Tert Krehbeil and concerned over her best friend’s relationship with him.
I have to admit, I found the storyline unconvincing and a bit convoluted. However, the book was not without its good points. I liked the main character Em Hansen. Author Sarah Andrews has drawn on her own life experiences in modeling Em, as Andrews herself studied geology and also has an interest in art. In addition to the puzzle of the painting, Em is working through a number of her own issues. She has to come up with a thesis project for the masters degree she is working on. She is angry with her Mom over the sale of the family farm. She feels a deep connection with her friend Faye’s baby and longs for her own stable relationship and family. Andrews brings all these loose ends to a tidy conclusion by the last chapter.
Earth Colors includes an interesting look at the pigments used by artists in the past and their geological sources. The painting Em is investigating is a nocturne, a night scene, which Remington worked on with Hooker’s Green. Andrews provides some background information on Remington and the nocturnes that he experimented with in the later years of his career. There is also a look at the Whitney Gallery of Western Art in Cody, Wyoming. However, Andrews offers very little about Remington’s ties to the east, where he spent most of his life.
An exhibit of Remington’s nocturnes was organized in 2003 and it seems likely that Andrews was influenced by the exhibition when coming up with the story behind Earth Colors.
A catalogue based on the exhibition, titled The Color of Night was released.