Color Stories | Pigment Collection of Unknown Origin

The most amazing Mothers Day gift ever, was given to me by my parents yesterday.  I had been coveting this collection of pigments she had purchased at a local garage sale years ago. I would sneak to take a peek of it almost every time I would visit my folks – drooling over the vibrant colors, the blown glass bottles and the beautifully hand calligraphed labels. To my utter surprise and elation ,they presented this to me yesterday and it will certainly be cherished as part of my color archive for the rest of my days.


What I know about these : Bottles 2-6 are missing. My mom took them to a local historian to see if she could find out any other information about them, but all they were able to devise was that they are most likely aged around the Pre-Civil War ear, as there are a few colors in the set that have not been produced since then.

In addition to doing further research on my own,  plan on sending some images of these, the case and what limited knowledge I have of them to the Forbes Pigment Collection at Harvard University to see if they may have more information about where they may have come from and their approximate age. They will remain forever in my safe keeping 🙂

The colors that are present in this collection include:

No. 1 – Aluminum

No. 7 – American Vermilion

No. 8 – Turkey Deep Red

No. 9 – Pyrogen Vermilion

No. 10 – Permanent Red

No. 11 – Transparent Rose Magenta

No. 12 – Thompson Fresco Violet

No. 13 – French Zinc White

No. 14 – Alpine Blue

No. 15 – Celestial Blue

No. 16 – Cobalt Blue

No. 17 – Ultra Marine Blue

No. 18 – Mauve Dry Color

No.19 – Chrome Yellow Light

No. 20 – Chrome Yellow Medium

No. 21 – Chrome Yellow Deep

No. 22 – Orange Mineral

No. 23 – Venetian Red

No. 24 – Rose Pink Magenta

No. 25 – Ivy Green

No. 26 – Swiss Leaf Green

No. 27 – Olive or Forest Green

No. 28 – Paris Green

No. 29 – Amalakite(sp) Green

No. 30 – Chrome Deep Green

No. 31 – Dutch Pink

No. 32 – Raw Sienna

No. 33 – Burnt Sienna

No. 34 – Raw Umber

No. 35 – Burnt Umber

No. 36 – Ivory black

UPDATE (05.12.2020)

Der Sarah,

Thank you for your email and the photos of your pigments. Firstly I want to say that I can’t give you as full an answer as I would like as we are working remotely and all my books are in my office, and the library is off limits at the moment.

The labels are interesting in that they are characteristic of early 20th century labels and similar to many of the ones we have in our own pigment collection from the 1920s-30s and these were widely available stationary items. The writing looks like it has been done with a nib and ink where the nib writes more widely in one direction than the other, something like a stub or italic nib, which is not unusual, it is this kind of nib that gives older fountain pens/dip pens their “character”. It is interesting to see Nu on the labels as an abbreviation of Number rather than No. I am not sure what that means but its worth keeping in your back pocket.

The jars don’t look like the manufacturer supplied containers. Many artists would buy large amounts of pigment in paper packets and decant smaller amounts into jars they would take into the studio or into the field. Two sets of jars like this belonging to Georgia O’Keeffe were sold by Sotheby’s just recently, and my conversations with the O’Keeffe museum suggest 1920s as the date for these pigments.

So it makes me think that the place in Waterford, NY may have been the home of an artists or a relative of an artist.

Regarding the date, Its hard to say exactly, but is we look at some of the pigments we find Magenta and Mauve were both discovered just prior to the Civil war (Magenta: 1859 Mauve: 1856), which support the local historian’s perspective. However there are other pigments which point to late 19th century/early 20th century as the earliest date. Permanent red can be aniline red (1907), lithol red (1899), pigment red 60 (1902). One jar in particular pushes the dated into the 20th century. A commercial process for producing aluminium was not available until 1889, and it was not available as a foil until 1910 (necessary to produce the powder). Aluminium as a powder was not available until the 1920s (it was used as a pigment on a lot of aircraft between the wars). The 1920s is consistent the date suggested by the labels.

It looks to me like you have a set of pigments that come from the 1920s. They are a lovely set. Some of the names are unusual (Amalakite Green) and may give you a clue as to the manufacturer.

Regarding a visit to the pigment collection, that is possible in the future, but how far ahead I cannot say. At the moment, we are working remotely, and we are working on possible scenarios for reopening but it could be some time. Please do stay in touch and we can plan a visit when it becomes possible.

I hope that some of this information is helpful to your understanding of your pigments. You may also find: a useful resource.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to write.




Narayan Khandekar

Director, Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies

Director, Center for the Technical Study of Modern Art

Color Stories | Artist | Samson Contompasis – Buckthorn Day

This Color Story is the first submission to our Color Story Archive, and I couldn’t be more excited that it is from my dear friend and fellow artist Samson Contompasis.

Last year Samson messaged me, excited after learning about my dive into natural pigments and color – as he was hiking in one of his favorite locales here in Upstate, NY during the beautiful transition from Summer to Autumn. He came upon a source of color and had to tell me about it …. I will let him tell the story in his words …
Buckthorn Day.

I remember when i first saw that Sarah was starting to publicly announce that she was taking on, which has already has proved to be monumental, the Narrative Terrains project. It immediately engaged me. When that seed was planted it didn’t force me to look at closer at the things around me, but rather I was given the opportunity to consider finding new things to help Sarah along this projectoral journey.

While walking through some of the blessings of upstate NY, Thacher Park. A plant i never would have taken notice or consideration of now jumped out at me like black ink on white paper. Turned out it was in fact an Indigo rather than black… but this otherwise innocuous plant now had a new purpose. The thing that drew me to it was the deep black/blue of the berries on this plant. I grabbed one of the berries and burst it between my fingers and this deep staining violet/blue streaked across my finger. I immediately texted Sarah to inform her i must take her to this location to harvest whatever these things are. It was towards the end of a hike so i only remember it in this one certain area.

In quick fashion as not to miss the chance to harvest whatever these things were. In my hurried explanation i didn’t properly illustrate what exactly it was we were hunting just that it would be wildly useful to Her cause.

The day came where we met to take this micro adventure to seek out this blueish berry. Upon our arrival we quickly walked to the area that i remember seeing this plant. Unbeknownst to me, it was actually all over the top of the cliff but i only previously remember it in only one spot. The day before Sarah was researching this plant called Buckthorn, low and behold, the plant i excitedly wrangled her to a cliffside for was in fact, Buckthorn. Very excited and with a little longer reach i was able to harvest fallen berries within arms reach of the fence while Sarah collected fresh specimens.

The Narrative Terrains project has helped me pay closer attention to what my surroundings are made of just in case i have to make that hurried text once again when there is an exceptional deposit of what would to most be considered a pile of debris, a weed, a plant that could only blend into and be part of a bigger backdrop, but to Sarah could be the key to unlocking a new development in their creative journey.


Common Name: Common and glossy buckthorn
Scientific NameRhamnus cathartica & Frangula alnus
Origin: Eurasia


The buckthorn species are deciduous shrubs or small trees that can reach heights of 20 feet. Their main stem can grow up to 10 inches in diameter, but is more commonly 1-3 inches in shrub form. Leaves are dark-green and oval with toothed margins and distinct upcurved veins. Common buckthorn typically has 3-5 pairs of leaf veins, while glossy buckthorn has 8-9. The twigs of common buckthorn are tipped with a spine, a characteristic that distinguishes it from glossy buckthorn. Small, round, black berries ripen in the fall and serve as the primary spread mechanism for this species.


Buckthorn is adapted to a wide variety of site conditions and may be found along forest edges, right-of-ways, in canopy openings, and open forested wetlands. Common buckthorn is most common in dry sites, while glossy buckthorn prefers moist soil.


Buckthorn grows in dense thickets that crowd and shade out native shrubs and herbaceous species. Severe infestations may limit the regeneration of native tree seedlings.

NYS Threat Ranking Assessment Score = Very High, 81.00 (common) & High, 74.00 (glossy)


Small plants can be managed using mechanical techniques such as pulling or digging, while large plants and extensive infestations are most efficiently treated with herbicide. Glyphosate and triclopyr based products can be utilized for foliar spray and cut stump treatments.

Source : Adirondack Park invasive Plant Program


Forays With Wild Clay

Left to Right | Wild Clay vessel with pigment and earth sealed with milk glaze and fired in the fireplace, Wild Clay vessel with pigments and earth fired in fireplace, Wild Clay vessel with pigments and earth awaiting it’s time in the embers.

I have begun to experiment with some 11,700 year old wild clay that I sustainably harvested along the banks of the shallows of the Hudson River. Crusted with slip, iron oxide pigments and Earth from Schoharie NY – they were first fired in my fireplace transforming their structure and color. To seal and protect them from the elements, they were then sealed with a thin coating of Cow’s milk and heated on high in the oven – the colors deepening as it warmed, the house smelling of caramel sweetness.

This wild clay is a bit tricky to work with – as you wet it to shape it, it wishes to slip between your fingers, becoming more fluid, defiantly refusing to maintain it’s man made form – it was a lovely lesson in balance. That we humans should not always force our will upon this land and it’s gifts. When I allowed the clay to take it’s shape organically, when I worked together with it to find that compromise – to allow it to be, while gently working with it in transformation – it all came together and took form. However, not in the way that I initially intended, but in a way that was even more beautiful, that changed my relationship, perception and intent of it.  I was able to create something I could use in harmony with the Earth and it’s gift – though the lesson the Earth taught me during this project – may have been the more precious gift after all.

Driftwood + Limestone | Schoharie, NY, The Story of a Quarry and Iron Sulphate Fossils – Part II

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 [1].

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 [email protected] 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 :

Pyrite | Formation / Oxidation

Pyrite Disease [1]



Driftwood + Limestone | Schoharie, NY, The Story of a Quarry and Iron Sulphate Fossils – Part I

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.


Save Our Schoharie (SOS)

Iroquois Indian Museum

NEWS : Times Journal : Schoharie to Cobelskill Stone – No!

NEWS : Watershed Post : Over 100 Outraged Schoharie Residents Protest Mining Expansion

Iron Oxide Bacteria

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. [1]

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. [2]

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. [3]

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. [4][5]

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.







Blue Clay of the Saguenay | A Field Trip to Tadoussac, Quebec

Earlier this month, my partner Leo and I took a quick weekend getaway to Quebec.  We spent a day and a half exploring the city, which was unique and beautiful – but we were both longing to explore the natural beauty of the Saguenay Fjord. Our last day in Canada, we woke up early, grabbed a coffee and hit the road – heading Northeast to Tadoussac – as I had come to find it is a place where Beluga whales spend time all year – they are my most favorite marine mammals and I have adored them since I was a kid – and though I knew the chances were slight to see them this time of year – the landscape of the region was reason enough to visit.

We crossed to Tadoussac on the ferry that traverses across the Saguenay River, and came into a quiet summer resort town – we were told by locals that during the winter the town is inhabited by around 700 people, and increases to 10,000 in the summer months. Undeterred, we hiked through the deep snow to a park along the coastline of the St. Lawrence Bay.

Tadoussac was home to the Innu, and they called Totouskak , meaning “bosom” in reference to the landscape. Other interpretations have also been “place of lobsters”, or “place where the ice is broken” (from the Innu shashuko). Although located in Innu territory, the post was also frequented by the Mi’kmaq people in the second half of the 16th century, who called it Gtatosag (“among the rocks”)[1] Tadoussac was an important trading centre for Indigenous peoples of the north and south shores of the St. Lawrence River.

As we wandered down the coastline, we began to come across outcrops of Laurentian Gneiss – beautiful rocks striated with rainbow colors in beautiful wavy patterns. Large chunks of ice had washed up on shore, high tide leaving them above the wet sand and crashing waves. Beyond the ice that temporarily made up the landscape, we also took notice of the coastal erosion that was present along the hillsides and cliffs exposed to the ocean. At one point we reached a tall cliff, roots dangling towards the sandy beach below, trees precariously positioned on the edge of the hillside above – and beautiful blue and green clay exposed at the base of this section of land.


On our hike back to the car, we were far more aware of the coastal erosion happening here and upon our return home, deep dove into research about the environment of the area, it’s native peoples and climate mitigation and adaptation strategies. Please visit the links below to learn more about what Quebec and the people of Tadoussac are doing to combat the effects of climate change. We look forward to visiting here again in the warmer months to observe the differences of the landscape, and hopefully see some Belugas 🙂

Tadoussac Historical References


Canadian Museum of History

Conseil de la Première Nation Innus Essipit

Fighting Climate Change In Tadoussac

Saguenay – St. Lawrence Marine Park Management Plan

Adaptation Processes of Peripheral Coastal Tourism Communities in Québec, Canada

Fighting Together Against Erosion

Storms and Shoreline Retreat in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence 

Coastal Erosion Working Group

Welcome To Narrative Terrains!

Welcome to Narrative Terrains ! This project has been a long time in the making – bits and pieces of it have surfaced over the years of being a professional artist, wanderer and lover of all things nature.  Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved playing in the dirt, experimenting and making art – so the foundation of this project seemed to take form organically.  I hope that you find these pages interesting and useful as a means of incorporating a new and intimate level to your creative process and connecting with the land, peoples and cultures around you – most importantly.  This project encourages sharing of knowledge and collaboration – so please be sure to keep and eye on our Collaboration opportunities, events and workshops, pigment archive and research collaborations and projects.  Also be sure to visit our Critical Forum to contribute to the conversation and share knowledges.  Many thanks for your interest and participation and I look forward to sharing what I come to know along this journey. Much love …