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Heidi Gustafson’s quest for ochre and mankind’s first pigments

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Nov 05, 2019

Heidi Gustafson

It’s fascinating to me how people can focus, specialize in, and love a tiny narrow niche and make it their life’s work. Heidi Gustafson, who’s creating a many-colored library of one of mankind’s first pigments, ochre, is one such person.

[A]t her small cabin near the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, creating an extensive ocher archive to catalog samples she’s gathered along with submissions of the mineral sent in from all over the world. While there has recently been renewed interest in creating paints from natural pigments, Gustafson’s focus is on ocher alone — and it extends beyond the material’s artistic uses to its scientific, symbolic and spiritual properties.

She initially got on the trail for ochre through a dream, a trail, and an old quarry in Oakland, before moving up the coast to continue her quest.

In 2017, a year after relocating to rural Washington, she officially began her ocher archive. While she forages in the Pacific Northwest, a slew of archaeologists, artists, scientists and pigment makers — a number of whom heard about her project through word of mouth — have also contributed to the archive, submitting samples from as far as Zambia, the Brazilian Amazon, New Zealand and Russia. Once each specimen arrives at her studio, it is ground by hand into pigment, labeled and added to her collection, which now includes over 400 different samples.

Mortar and colours, from Heidi Gustafson's Instagram

Be sure to check out her Instagram account for a lot more pictures of her love for ochre and pigments.

Colour palette, from Heidi Gustafson's Instagram

Update: The images in this post were originally from the New York Times article, and were replaced by some from Heidi Gustafson’s Instagram account.