Archives for April 2020
One of my favorite things about my pigment work is the new information that I learn, artistically, culturally and scientifically. As i mentioned in Part I of this story, I came across these beautiful little iron fossils upon closer inspection of the landscape near the quarry in Schoharie. At first, i wasn’t sure if they were fossils or simply pure iron ore, until getting home to do some further research. What prompted my intrigue in finding out some answers was also the presence of Pyrite that was centered around the rich iron colors on the surrounding rocks. This Pyrite was the key clue to unravelling the interesting little mystery of my find.
First, to understand how these once living organisms transformed into the present day beautiful nuggets of color that they are, we need to know about the process of fossilization. Fossilization is the process in which mineral deposits form internal casts of once living organisms. The minerals are carried by water and fill the spaces within organic tissue by seeping into the pores of the cells wall and form crystal structures within the walls – the cell walls remain intact surrounding the crystal.
The presence of Pyrite in these color samples indicate that the water and sediment they were once submerged in was rich and saturated withe Iron Sulfides – as Pyrite is an Iron persulfide (FeS2). Pyrite is often found in sedimentary rock – as organic matter decays it releases sulfide which reacts with the dissolved iron particles in the water. Pyrite replaces the once carbonate shell, bone or structure of an animal or plant due to an undersaturation of carbonate in the surrounding waters. This occurs frequently in marine environments and is a process of Permineralization.
When these Pyrite fossils are exposed to O2 and H2O they can suffer from “Pyrite Disease” or “Pyrite Rot”. This “disease” is actually the oxidation of the Pyrite which in turn transforms it into Iron Sulphate (FeSO4). The product of the oxidation is several times the volume of the original material which causes the fossil to fracture and crumble .
Upon crushing down some of the less discernible and more damaged specimens for a truly unique pigment, they released a strong sulphur smell as they were still pure pyrite in the core where water and oxygen had not yet penetrated. The pigment, as it stands now is a rich brown color – but will transform over time and exposure to the orange-red rust tones we come to know with oxidized iron.
Due to the scarcity of these fossils at this site and sustainable color foraging practices – I will only be making a small amount of this pigment from what I collected. Once sample will be archived, one small sample will be used in a fine art piece to tell the story of the land from where these came, and the other 2 dram vial will be sold in the shop soon – 100% of the proceeds from the sale of this pigment (which will include some other little treasures collected from this spot) will be donated to SOS to help their fight with the expansion of the quarry. If you are interested in purchasing the pigment and supporting this cause before I have the chance to get the store up and running – please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Thank you and much love and light to you and yours !
Please see the links below for further reading on the topics mentioned in this post :
This weekend, in an escape from the news and the isolation of quarantine, I returned to a site in Schoharie, NY I visited last year in search of Devonian fossils, with a new purpose of foraging for color.
I had recalled, that part of the roadside rock cut composed of Lower Devonian Kalkberg and Becraft Limesone, that exposed millions of fossils of various varieties including brachs, bryzoans, crinoids, Phacops trilobites and spheroidal sponges, also had several spots of iron oxide deposits I wanted to revisit to take some samples for the Narrative Terrains pigment and story archive. Thankfully, I was the only one visiting this location today and this location lent to some pleasant, and disheartening surprises.
I collected some of the soil samples that were rich in color from the beautiful iron, my hands scooping the cold, damp sands coloring them with orange and yellow dust – and a rich earthy smell of disturbed soil surrounded me. I collected some beautiful fossils to add to my collection, but the remaining colors that I initially noticed had already been archived in the collection from my previous visit. However, I took a moment to meditate in this space, to breathe in the cool spring air, to give thanks to this space for it’s gifts and to offer reverence to the Haudenosaunee and Mohawk people that this land belonged to, to slow down in the moment and to pay attention to the details of my surroundings. It was after this pause, and reset that I began to notice the bright orange and red iron stains on some rock shards strewn along the hillside below the road cut cliffs. Upon closer inspect, these rocks had broken in a way that each of them had a “centerpiece” of what looked like pure iron. The more I looked, the more I found and some of them retained the details of the organisms they once were …. and now they were transformed into amazing iron fossils, rich with earthy color. I will share more of this in Part II of this post …
Upon loading up my car with my finds for the day, leaving an offering of thanks for the gift the land provided I started to make my way home, but not before noticing a new path on the side of the road, leading behind the treasure laden road cut. I decided to investigate further, as i had a sneaking suspicion of what lay beyond the iron gate closing off the path. I parked and ventured only a few feet until it was obvious my suspicions were confirmed – a large, gaping hole of wounded earth stood before me, destruction of this amazing landscape, the erasing of geological history, the disruption of this beautiful environment, all man-made took form in this limestone quarry. It was a heartbreaking jolt back to the reality of the present, from my peaceful connection with the land just moments before.
I drove around a bit, down the hill from where I was previously perched above the gaping hole in the earth, and came to the processing machinery of the plant, just yards away from homes and the school centered in town. I was rather angry about all this, greeting my fiance Leo, who is currently finishing his doctoral dissertation in environmental adaptation and policy in rural communities, with a long rant about what I just witnessed and then decided to deep dive into the history of the land, and the man made destruction of it.
The land, known as Schoharie, which means “Driftwood” in the Mohawk language – was inhabited by the Mohawk peoples, one of the 6 members of the Iroquois Confederacy, or the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee (People of the Longhouse). Archeological evidence of habitation in the region dates back 8,000-10,000 years – it has been suggested the earliest inhabitants were the ancestors of the Mohican, Delaware and Iroquois peoples. The land of the Mohawks extended from the Schoharie Creek through the Mohawk Valley, to the Genessee River. The area was colonized by Palatine Germans in 1713.
The stone quarry now occupies about 8 acres of land, and in 2004 purchased another 69 acres to expand it’s extraction. The town of Schoharie has since been embroiled in a legal battle to prohibit that expansion that would cross over the site that i spend my Sunday afternoon in peace in. There are many environmental and social danger associated with this expansion including permanent damage to the water table given that the geological formation is a karst, there are issues regarding air quality with dust from the mine, and the expansion will bring the mining operations closer to the backyards of Schoharies’s residence – as it is already encroaching on personal property. The SOS (Save Our Schoharie) is an organization that has helped with donations to help fight the ongoing legal battle between the town and the mining corporation, in addition to supporting and sponsoring environmental impact testing on what the expansion could mean for the town. If you feel so inclined to write a letter of concern or opposition to the mining expansion, can offer legal assistance or expert advice that could better help them end this fight and the expansion, i have included their link below, as well as news articles relating to the ongoing battle.
Additionally, in my next post, i will share more information about the color i gathered at the location this past weekend, and will be offering a very special, limited edition of the pigment – and the proceeds from the sale of it will be donated to SOS to assist with their proceedings on trying to stop the expansion of the mining operations. I will be contacting SOS to learn more about the current status of the legal proceedings, ways to be able to help, and seeing if it possible to contact residents who oppose the mining operations to lean more about how it effects them and their families and land.
SOURCES FOR REFERENCE :
In my little village there is a stream that runs into the lake that the village is named for. One day when I first moved here, I noticed a trail of shimmery, orange sludge leaching into the stream. Initially, I thought (with great concern) that this was coming from some contaminated source, buried in the hillside surrounding the stream, but upon further research and inquiry when I began my pigment project – I came to learn that the source is actually Iron Oxide Bacteria, and thankfully, a naturally occurring substance. Iron Oxide Bacteria are chemotrophic bacteria that derive the energy they need to live and multiply by oxidizing dissolved ferrous iron. 
These harmless bacteria “bloom” when oxygen, water and iron combine. The bacteria are typically rust-colored and appear oily. They form masses composed mainly of the iron oxide-accumulating bacterium Leptothrix. Iron bacteria undergoes an oxidation process (change their compound structure) to fulfill it’s energy requirements. This involves changing ferrous iron (Fe2+) into ferric iron (Fe3+). This process makes the iron insoluble and produces the rust-colored slimy deposit in stream beds. 
Iron Oxide Bacteria have been used by hunter gathers in North America’s Pacific Northwest, among other cultures, for use in pigments for rock art, personal adornment and mortuary practices. A research paper by Brandi Lee MacDonald at the University of Missouri, touches on the technological innovation and human evolutionary development of these peoples and their use of heating the iron oxide bacteria to enhance their color and increase their colorfastness for the use of this material as a pigment for rock art. 
Even animals have used iron oxide, and iron oxide bacteria as a means of adornment – though the true purpose of why is still unknown. The Bearded Vulture is known to cover decorate itself by covering it’s white chest feathers in iron oxide dust and bathing in pools rich with iron oxide. Research has suggested that this behavior is either an attempt at asserting dominance or as a means of replacing carotenoids, which their bodies do not produce on their own. 
Iron Oxide Bacteria is a magical and strange substance, and I am thankful to have a seemingly endless source of it in my backyard. I am currently drying some out to crush into pigment to utilize in my artwork and catalog in the archive, and look forward to continued research on cultural uses of this particular source of color throughout the ages. If you have any knowledge to share with regards to Iron Oxide Bacteria use in art/culture, or other environmental information you’d like to share, please do so in the comments. I hope through this crisis we are all dealing with together, that you and yours are and remain healthy and well, and that you are able to use this time in isolation to tap into your creative spirit and find ways to reconnect with our marvelous planet.