Dye Days at Harvard

October 25, 2010

I travelled to Cambridge Massachusetts last week to teach natural dye labs for students in the Visual and Environmental Studies program.  My days were invigorating, from the architecture of the building where we convened.. the conversations with students and professors. Inspiration permeated the hours and days.

I shared my work on the intersection of art, chemistry and ecology through a narrative based presentation, as well as a series of hands-on application processes.  Above, the work of our immersion labs.  Students worked with plant species native to the northeast, as well as California. One of the cosmos species we used, was being cultivated in the Harvard school community garden.

The garden was started this year as a part of  a University wide project led by the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School.  The well-tended beds were laden with food, and unbeknownst the gardeners… dye plants too!

Here lies a beaker filled with cosmos dye- an easy to make concoction, with a readily available species.  The basis for a beautiful golden orange color.

Here is a pokeberry wash we made.. used on paper and on fabric.  The berry can be found throughout the region, and is native to the Cambridge area.

We also covered the use of both common and not so common tannic compounds for use in painting and printing.  Students explored variations in color provided by pH as well as mineral mordant applications.

The beauty of abstraction.. all the tannin pieces were created on unmordanted organic cotton canvas.  Students explored the possibility of non-toxic painting .. based in the use of highly renewable resources.

The use of homemade iron and alum acetates proved to work beautifully on organic cotton muslin.  This piece was a combination of stamping, immersion, and shibori work– a very unique blend of materials and processes.

Our last immersion lab proved to be an especially creative block of time.

We made a completely non-toxic instant indigo vat, that everyone was able to use within minutes of its creation.

Some of the immersion processes…

A combination of the printmaking and immersion lab samples where laid out together in this image.  A compilation of earth pigment paints, acetate printing, and immersion vat dips.  A colorful and diverse array of applications.

Before I say goodbye..I’d just like to thank those who made these labs possible– Helen Miller, Helen Mirra, Matt Saunders, Josh Hart, and Aurora Andrews– you are amazing….

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Late Summer Oak and Cosmos

October 14, 2010

The fecundity of fall–a time of vibrant color from the living and the dead.  The cosmos flowers are giving their last hooray before the close of the warm weather.  Orange petals abound– the source of a beautiful range of yellow, orange, and gold dye colors.  These flowers can be dried or put into the dye pot right off the plant.

Oak galls can be harvested in plenty this time of year from the forest floor.  They are so extremely abundant– and rich with tannins.  The compounds they contain produce a range of dark silver grays, and almost-blacks, depending on how you process them.

Pouring hot water over the flowers and letting them soak for 20 minutes is enough time to create a dye color.

This cotton sample was washed– and left unmordanted before it was painted upon.  Oak gall and iron water was brushed upon it (the black), the cosmos flower dye was brushed on top.  After rinsing, this was the outcome.

This was the oak gall and iron water that was thickened and then screenprinted on a washed and unmordanted piece of cotton.  This simple form illuminates the beautiful and strong color that emerges from the gall.