The World of Color – New Langsam Library exhibit showcases the work of Isay Balinkin

An exhibit on the 4th floor lobby of the Walter C. Langsam Library showcases the work of University of Cincinnati professor Isay Balinkin, a pioneer in the field of color studies. From being an impassioned teacher, awarded the prestigious Godlove Award for his lifelong contributions to color in art, science and industry, Balinkin’s impact was far reaching. His colorful book collection is available for use and study in the Geology-Mathematics-Physics Library, while his personal communication, lab notes and various other belongings are available for research in the Archives and Rare Books Library.

graphic of isay balinkin

Early Life and Education: 

Isay Balinkin was born on September 14, 1900 in Odessa, Ukraine where he attended Commercial High School, graduating in 1918. He started studies at the Polytechnic Institute of Odessa, but was unable to finish his degree.  

From an earlier LiBlog post by Kevin Grace:

His father, Avram, owned a factory that made wood type.  As a manufacturer and property owner, Balikin’s father was labeled as a capitalist during the Russian Revolution, and, as a result, Isay was expelled from the Polytechnic Institute.  Isay was able to escape the Soviet Union, but the remainder of his family was unable to join him. By the summer of 1921, he had made his way to Constantinople (Istanbul) as a political refugee.  A relief commission assisted him in finding a job building a new electrical laboratory at Robert College, an American-sponsored college. The Dean of Roberts College, L.A. Scipio, befriended Balinkin and assisted him in enrolling for classes in the fall of 1921.


Balinkin ended up in Cincinnati by chance. In his senior year at Robert College, Dean Scipio exchanged positions with Professor A.L. Jenkins of UC.  Balinkin credited Professor Jenkins for convincing him to come to Cincinnati and pursue his master’s and doctoral degrees. He came to the United States in 1925 and received both a master’s degree (1926) and his Ph.D. (1929) in physics from UC. He must have shown much promise as he was appointed Instructor of Experimental Physics at UC the same year.  Starting in 1936, he also served as Research Consultant for the Cambridge Tile Mfg. Co.  Balinkin spent 9 months each year teaching and the other 3 conducting research at the Cambridge Tile Manufacturing Co.”

Awards and Honors

Isay Balinkin was awarded the Engineer of the Year award on Feb 20th, 1964 by the Engineering Society of Cincinnati, although he was not a member. He was, however, a member of the affiliated American Ceramic Society.  

On April 30th, in Pittsburgh, PA, at the 65th Annual Meeting, Isay Balinkin was awarded the honor of Fellow of the American Ceramic Society by a unanimous vote of the Board of Trustees.  

His teaching aids and his talent for making skillful presentations of difficult subjects were so outstanding that they were featured in a “Life” magazine article. (October 1947) For many years his lectures of color phenomena have delighted and informed thousands of engineers, architects, colorists, students and laymen.  

Godlove Award

The Godlove award was established in the memory of Dr. I. H. Godlove and is given biennially for contributions to the subject of color by the Inter-Society Color Council. “The Godlove Award is the most prestigious award bestowed by the Inter-Society Color Council, and honors long-term contributions in the field of color. Candidates will be judged by their contribution to any of the fields of interest related to color, whether or not it is represented by a Member-Body. A candidate’s contribution is to be considered in the light of the objectives of the Council as defined in Article II of the Constitution. This contribution may be direct, it may be in the active practical stimulation of the application of color, or it may be an outstanding dissemination of knowledge of color by writing or lecturing, based upon original contributions of the nominee.”

At the time of receiving the award, Balinkin was both a professor of experimental physics at UC and also the director of research for the Cambridge Tile Company of Cincinnati. He was a fellow of the Optical Society of America, a member of Sigma Psi, and a fellow of the American Ceramics Society. The Godlove award was a crowning achievement in Balinkin’s professional life. When then President of the Inter-Society Color Council Richard Pike wrote Balinkin to inform him of his achievement, Balinkin’s letter back started with “Nothing in my lifetime has touched me so deeply as your most kind letter informing me of my designation as the next recipient of the Godlove Award.”  

When writing to Dorothy Nickerson, who was the first President of the ISCC in 1954, the 1961 recipient of the Godlove award, and member of the ISCC Board of Trustee’s, Balinkin wrote, “The news about my designation as the next recipient of the Godlove Award was so overwhelming it took several hours to bring me back to earth. It was most kind of you and your committee to do me the greatest honor of my lifetime.”  


The Isay Balinkin Collection of Color and Light can be explored at OR  

The Archives and Rare Books Library have created a finding aid of Balinkin’s papers.

The exhibit, “The World of Color: Isay Balinkin from the Collections of UC Libraries,” was curated by Mark Chalmers, science and engineering librarian in the Sciences and Engineering Library, and was designed by Library Communication design co-op students Natalie Rogers and Tony Buelsing. A bibliography of the works included in the exhibit is available in print at the exhibit and online as a PDF.