Anna Hergert, Art & Design

Familiar Territory: A Book Review

“Symmetries of Culture – Theory and Practice of Plane Pattern Analysis” by Dorothy Washburn and Donald W. Crowe; University of Washington Press, Seattle and London. 1988, third printing 1998.

ISBN 0-295-97084-7

I have been preparing for my upcoming design workshop on Saturday and my research repeatedly takes me to my library. On one such excursion “Symmetries of Culture” literally jumped out at me and I felt compelled to spend some quality time with an old friend.

The book is a large volume and despite its black and white illustrations offers a wealth of information to students of design. By sharing with you the table of contents I hope to spark your interest:

  • Chapter 1: History and Theory of Plane Pattern Analysis
  • Chapter 2: Mathematical Principles and Terminology
  • Chapter 3: Color Symmetry
  • Chapter 4: One-Dimensional Patterns
  • Chapter 5: Two-Dimensional Patterns
  • Chapter 6: Finite Designs
  • Chapter 7: Problems in Classification

This book is aimed at non-mathematicians. With the excellent historical information it is easy for the the reader to be mesmerized by patterns and their breakdown. Anyone studying art history has become aware of recurring symmetrical patterns of form and color in ancient, tribal, fold and the applied arts. At the same time, anthropologists are actively applying ‘symmetry analysis’ in their research to explain how artworks reflect pattern of human behavior and basic values.

“Symmetries of Culture” richly illustrates, in word as well as in imagery, intriguing examples of symmetrical designs found across all cultures, whether we examine an English  quilt, a Zulu loin cloth, Japanese chopstick case or Native American basketry containers. In more recent history we can identify similarities of Escher’s fantastical drawing of interlocking lizards to a Fijian basket lid and an Egyptian wall mosaic.

I purchased this book for my library in 1999 and at that time the cost was US $ 50 which made the book a true investment. I have referred to it regularly and because I have it on my library shelf it is readily accessible to answer pattern related questions in an instant. If you are interested: The book is still available and I have found it during an online search for just under US $ 45. I highly encourage you to check with your library and see if they can obtain a copy.

This entry was published on February 21, 2012 at 7:22 am. It’s filed under Art, Book Review, Design, History and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

7 thoughts on “Familiar Territory: A Book Review

  1. Pingback: Books of Inspiration « Diannajessie

  2. Hi Anna, this review is excellent and I would like to share your link on my blog sometime soon, so that others may come to your site and look, I hope this will be ok with you:) Thank you, Dianna


  3. Carol Boyer on said:

    HI hi-

    It looks like a good thing to investigate.

    Thanks for sharing.
    Carol B


  4. Found Symmetries used on the Amazon website for $13.00 plus shipping. I assume if you go to other used book sites like alibris it can also be found for about the same amount.


    • Thanks Alice, Very helpful information for those of us watching our finances!
      Another reader just sent me this link providing an excellent example of the book. Several images are provided in color which is a wonderful bonus. Enjoy, everyone!


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