An Ongoing Exploration: Getting to Know Red Ochre

iron seep 3 rt 30 brattleboro 2019

A very significant cultural component: ritual adornment, mortuary practice, healing properties, ornamentation… the importance of red ochre to the Abenaki, and to many indigenous cultures, cannot be overemphasized. The word  in Aln8baiwi is olamanjagw, red ochre mud; when mixed with grease,  it is simply olaman. In Anishinaabemowin, the word is very similar: onaman. Ochre is derived from natural iron oxide compounds, in mineral deposits, clay, or iron seeps , where iron oxidizing bacteria augment the chemical conversion.

iron ochre names royal society of canada 1885

Publication of Royal Society of Canada, 1885.

Local people sought nearby sources of this valuable material; if they were not fortunate in this respect, they were obliged to trade for it. Here in Sokwakik there is an abundance of iron in the local geology. An iron seep just north of Wantastegok yields an abundant flow of ferrous oxide mud, carried with the groundwater through a mineral-rich ledge of Waits River schist and emerging on the east face. In the summer, the iron-oxidizing bacteria colonies form amazing cellular structures. In the winter, these lose their shape and form a hard, crumbly crust. The pigmented mud accumulates in the crevices of the rock and can be collected simply, with a little careful examination of the best pockets.

The seep in summer.

The seep in winter

By collecting this dark red-brown mud, heating (oxidizing) ’til it reached its maximum color (too much heat will result in a darker, browner hue), and then sifting it, I  was able to produce a nice amount of orange/dark red/brown pigment on an initial trial. This could be further pulverized with a mortar and pestle, before mixing with a grease or oil and used for painting the body, or another use.

More to come…

 

 

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richholschuh

The world is a big place. This is how it appears to me. Your results may differ.

3 thoughts on “An Ongoing Exploration: Getting to Know Red Ochre”

    1. Kwai Sarah – Yes, I would be interested in learning more about your project and in a posible collaboration. Thank you for finding my site and your interest in the thoughts expressed here. There is much more to come in general, and more on the subject of indigenous cultural uses of earth-derived pigments. I will check out your site! Wliwni – thank you, Rich

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      1. Thank you so much Rich – I would very much love to connect and chat and to learn more about yourself and your work and especially on the local indigenous uses of the color found here in this region. Please feel free to contact me directly at narrativeterrains@gmail.com – and I will be sure to keep an eye out for updates here on your site as well. Thank you for sharing the information that you have – it is much appreciated and I hope we have the chance to collaborate!

        Liked by 1 person

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