Sunday, November 02, 2014

Hopi Pigments

Weather: Below 30 on Wednesday; catalpa leaves turned brown, cottonwoods leaves started dropping; last rain 10/20.

What’s blooming in the area: Chrysanthemums.

Beyond the walls and fences: Áñil del muerto, purple asters.

In my yard: Winecup mallow, black-eyed Susan, chocolate flower, blanket flower.

Animal sightings: Cabbage butterflies, hornets, large and small black ants.

Weekly update: Hopi experiments with burning rocks and attempts to change the color of yellow clay to something lighter may have led to a better understanding of mineral-based pigments. The pottery continued to have a black decoration made from iron manganese, but colors began to be used in wall murals in the Awátovi kiva on Antelope Mesa sometime before the late 1300s.

When Watson Smith helped excavate the kiva in the early 1950s, he sent samples of the mural paints and paint pots found in the area to chemists. Unfortunately, he didn’t publish the same details about locations as he did for the murals themselves, so it’s difficult to know when which pigments were introduced.

The colors included many shades of yellow, red, blue, black and white, the primary colors of the Hopi palette. Other colors were used, but in small quantities. The few green samples came from malachite, a copper carbonate.

The black and white probably represented transfers of ceramic knowledge. Much of the white was derived from "the white sandy clay that occurs in the Cretaceous beds underlying Antelope Mesa." The blacks varied, but all involved some kind of carbon. A few had obvious remains of charcoal.

Yellow came from limonite or goethite, red from hematite. All are iron ores better known as ochres. They are responsible for the colors in clay. Their usefulness as pigments has been discovered by people living on all parts of the globe since paleolithic times.

The three Hopi mesas settled today sit on Mesaverde sandstone. Antelope Mesa to the southeast lies on exposed Mancos shale that has "thin beds of bentonic clay," meaning clay formed from weathering volcanic ash. It probably derived from eruptions on Hopi Buttes farther to the southeast.

When John Hack excavated the ash heaps on Antelope Mesa where pottery had been fired, he found the upper seam of coal left red ash and the lower one left white ash. The red came from the shale, which in turn got its color from hematite. Brown shale gets it colors from goethite and limonite. Shale, itself, is a sedimentary, compacted mud.

It’s possible artists weren’t satisfied with hematite. Smith noted more sources for red than other colors, including some vermillion. He also noted a number of examples of pinks, oranges, maroons and browns that might have been intended to be reds. The pinks appeared to be reds painted over white bases that might have faded. The others were forms of iron oxide, some burned, some containing carbon particles. Some of the browns and purples contained manganese. Compounds of the last often are pink. All indicate experimentation.

Blue is the innovation. The polychrome ceramics that preceded Jeddito ware used black, white and red pigments. While weather oxidizes the darker Mancos shale to a blue hue, few stones or plants are pure blues.

Sapphires, aquamarines, and lapis lazuli may be found in small quantities in this country, but they are mined in the parts of Asia near the collision of tectonic plates that lifted the Himalayas and Hindu Kush. Cobalt, which releases arsenic gases when it’s smelted, is mined today in the Congo, China and Cuba.

Copper compounds often are blue or green. A few pigments found in the Awátovi kiva were made from copper carbonate or azurite, another form of copper carbonate. Turquoise is a hydrated phosphate of copper and aluminum, but would have been considered too valuable to grind.

Smith did find some blue pigments were made from crushed pebbles. Most were mixes of white clay and charcoal. When he compared the kiva paints with those used in the Franciscan church erected over the kiva in 1629, he found only copper carbonate used for blue or green. Mixtures no longer were used.

The mixtures witness a desire that prompted a search for a new pigment and may hint that the need for blue was recent in the 1400s. They even may suggest when the modern Hopi palette began coalescing.

Hack, John T. Prehistoric Coal Mining in the Jeddito Valley, Arizona, 1942.

López, Alejandro. "A Tribute in Paint to the Earth and Local Agriculture," Green Fire Times, October 2014. Robert Montoya and Marlo Martinez also provided information on murals.

O’Sullivan, R. B., C. A. Repenning, E. C. Beaumont, and H. G. Page. Stratigraphy of the Cretaceous Rocks and the Tertiary Ojo Alamo Sandstone, Navajo and Hopi Indian Reservations, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, 1972.

Smith, Watson. Kiva Mural Decorations at Awatovi and Kawaika-a, 1952; has quotation about source of white.

Photographs: Murals on local Española buildings. The ones on the city-owned Hunter Ford buildings across from Cook’s Hardware, Paseo de Oñate, are sponsored by Cultura Cura/Culture Cures Collaborative. The group was formed by Lily Yeh and the New Mexico Community Foundation’s Collaborative Leadership Program. Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area, Inc. matched the NMCF funding. All imagery was based on collage of photographs by Alejandro López. My pictures were taken 29 October 2014.

1. "Mother Corn," design by Rose B. Simpson of Santa Clara, with collaborative support from Warren Montoya of Santa Ana Pueblo; Santa Clara pueblo, with Black Mesa on left and Jémez on right. Floating corn in center was added by Mike Ipiotis of Albuquerque. Hunter Ford building.

2. Detail of #1, counterclockwise, corn is yellow, blue, white, and red mixed; woman in center has peppers with squash nearby; corn field is being continued to the right by Thomas Vigil of Española.

3. Detail of #1; sparkle in water is created with pieces of colored or mirrored glass; paints are acrylic; more than sixty community members have painted and applied recycled glass elements to the murals.

4. "Primavera" by Alejandro López, Roger Montoya of Velarde, and Arlene Jackson from Trinidad. Spring planting looking east towards Truches Peaks; water in the ditches; Hunter Ford building.

5. Detail of #4, man plowing with peach orchard in back; girls’ heads by Arlene Jackson.

6. Running the irrigation, early in season, peaches in back; by Alejandro López; Marlo Martinez commercial building across road and little south from Valley National Bank, Riverside Drive. López is from Santa Cruz, his family from Las Truches.

7. "El Sembrador" by Arlene Jackson, Alejandro López, and Robert Montoya; water running in the ditches. Young man at left with ear phones is Victor Villalpando, who was killed by local police in June, 2014. Hunter Ford building.

8. Detail of #7; corn is ripening in back with peppers in front; blue-flowered morning glory in corn; Victor is carrying yellow corn. Students at Robert Montoya’s La Tierra Montessori School in Alcalde and Moving Arts Española added the animals and some plants; students included Konstantin Aragonez, Sasha Backhas, Isaac López, Kylie Martinez, and Amelia Ortega.

9. "La Española" by Alejandro López; imagines the women who ran the restaurant used for the name of the local rail stop; Santa Cruz church in back, yellow and red apples above; Marlo Martinez building.

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