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!
A while back I wrote about the history of Conestogo’s pigment production which you can read that here, if you like.