One of the things I look forward to each year is revisiting the Conestogo River after the spring torrents have washed its banks. I never know what I’ll find as the waters reshape the river’s boarder revealing new veins of colours (and burying others). Yesterday my son and I were delighted to find a new, wide streak of colour which is the nicest I’ve found yet—bright and pure. Eby Ochre never looked so good!
It was a wonderfully blue weekend (not emotionally, or musically, but colour-wise!). Autumn has suddenly arrived here in Conestoga and with it the possibility of a frost that would ruin my crop of woad. With cold nights predicted in the new week, I decided it was time to harvest. Continue reading…
Today was a very good day—I found the site where Conestogo’s sienna pigment was collected! And, the best part is, that I didn’t even know that I was pigment hounding!
With a bright, sunny afternoon before us on a holiday Monday, the children had asked if we could go for a hike along the Conestogo River to look for butterflies. When I agreed, we packed up all the necessary things we needed and headed out. When we reached the old, iron bridge that crosses the river, I asked them if they wanted to turn right or left. We always go left. There are nice fields to explore, shells to collect, an old orchard to walk through and—best of all in my mind—it leads us on a cyclical path so we don’t need to backtrack. But today the consensus was that we were to go right …
As the children ran on ahead down our new path, I mused to myself that we were now walking where Potter Bill (William K. Eby, +1905) had over a century ago fired his pots from the clay he dredged from the river’s bank. Although there’s no workshop or kiln left, you can still mark the area by the six foot cliffs which are the result of his lifetime of digging. As I looked down, I thought I saw a little colour along the bank when Michael shouted, “Daddy! Pigment!”
Just above the water, from where he stood, was a foot-wide swath of ochre! In the past the best I had found for collecting colour around the village (going to the left of the bridge …) only promised a thin coating—here was a vein! So we all headed back to the studio and I grabbed a bucket, shovel, and my camera! It took very little time to fill my bucket, and the results are amazing. The pigment is much purer, brighter and more opaque (my hands are still orange while I type this …).
Before this find my theory had been that somewhere along the many mill-runs of Conestogo they must have hit a vein of ochre which was later harvested by the Goods and Sills Paint Company began their selling their pigment. But, it seems likely now that it was Potter Bill who provided the pigment (or at least made it available). Its in honour of that belief that I’m naming this raw pigment colour, “Eby Ochre”
There’s a little bit of an ironic note in all this, however. On Saturday I completed my Conestogo Spidergram which mapped the much inferior pigment I had collected before through its multitude of colourful changes—I can see I’ll be doing that process all over again very soon!
By the way—A while back I wrote about the history of Conestogo’s pigment production which you can read that here, if you like.
I think it’s too bad that footprints have become associated with the negative impact that people have in the world. When we travel, we stop and consider our carbon-footprint; when we use something, we weigh it’s ecological-footprint …
I personally love footprints, as I think of them as a microcosm of the positive environmental impact we can have. When we step our bare foot onto the earth, a creative endeavour happens—we make our uniquely personal impression but it becomes informed by that earth. The shapeless, sandy impressions I left in the desert of California are different from the crisp, dark, watery outlines I left on the granite of Nova Scotia which is different again from the bright, ghostly imprint that I left in the mud of the Conestogo River today. In each case my footprints are something of a collaboration between myself and that specific environment—something that I believe is at the heart of every place were we live. A footprint, to me, represents the very essence of what I understand place to be.
My own work with local-colours is in the same vein as these footprints—using the earth in collaboration. The colourful rocks I collect from different places are unique, and their resulting personalities enrich my painting. The village of Conestogo has a long history of creating pigments from it’s rocks (if you’re interested, you can read more about it here in a previous post). I still haven’t found the exact place where bog-iron ore was once mined to create pigment a century ago, but I have a place along the river where I can dig-up enough pigment for my placeful colours.
Today I went on my first local-colour pigment hunt of 2012! Working with my kids over the years has taught me that nothing is more special than collecting treasures from your own backyard. And, with the unusually warm weather that this sunny spring has brought us in southern Ontario, the Conestogo River’s water-levels were low enough to collect a little colour (which is personally very timely—given that I need this pigment for an upcoming show in Kamloops …). It’s a rare March day in Canada when one can happily leave footprints in any river’s mud—which made today all the more glorious!