Fragrance wheel, 1983

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1008, Smell Wheels

Three round diagrams visualize experiences of smell. Perfumers, food scientists, and smell researchers have often used charts and wheels to categorize aromas. Human beings can distinguish at least one trillion distinct smells, yet many people find it difficult to precisely describe them. Although odors are invisible, these diagrams build on intuitive associations between smell and color.

  • Fragrance Wheel, 1983

    The circle is divided into wedges and rings of color, labeled with names for different smells. This diagram was created by a perfumer to describe the sensory components of a fragrance. At the center, a small white circle is labeled "aromatic" and "fougère" (fern), establishing two broad categories. The next ring has four wedges: floral notes, oriental notes, woody notes, and fresh notes. The outer ring contains another level of detail. Designed by Michael Edwards.

  • Urban Smellscape Aroma Wheel, 2017

    Wedges of color radiate from the center of the circle, labeled with categories such as "food," "waste," "emissions," and "animals." Researchers collected hundreds of smell words during walks with participants in the UK, Europe, and USA. These words were matched with thousands of geo-referenced messages on social media, yielding the words occupying the outer ring of the diagram.

    Kate McLean (British, born 1965) with Daniele Guercia, Rossano Schifanella, and Luca Maria Aiello; Courtesy of Kate McLean

  • Anosmia: The Monotony of Smell Loss, 2015

    A circle divided into quarters is hand-colored in brownish gray and labeled with texts such as "burning non-stick frying pans in outer space." Texts around the edge include "all smells are like an assault." Loss of one's sense of smell is called anosmia. Christine Kelly became anosmic after a sinus infection. She documented her experience with a series of smell wheels. For her, smells didn't simply disappear but became noxious and muddy. Eventually, her sense of smell returned.

    Christine Kelly (American and British, born 1959); Watercolor and ink (original); Courtesy of Christine Kelly

  • Color Wheel
  • oil paint on composition board.
  • Gift of Hilaire Hiler.
  • 1960-244-1

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This object was previously on display as a part of the exhibition The Senses: Design Beyond Vision.

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