An Ochre Planet

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Treasures of Provence, a SCAD art history class taught by Professor Rebecca Trittel, had the immense pleasure of visiting the Ochre Mines in Roussillon on October 11th. We summarized this visit, as well as the trips to Abbaye de Senaque and Gordes on the same day in a journal. The precursor to these day trips are readings done before the day’s class about the places we will visit. It is a wonderful way to expand an academic text into a complete and comprehensive experience.

As an article of http://www.avignon-et-provence.com illustrates, ochre has been used as pigment since ancient times. In 1780 Jean Etienne Astier (a resident of Roussillon) discovered that properly treated ochre could become a fade-resistant, non-toxic coloring agent. He became the first official ochrier in France, and in the 19th century the mining of ochre became industrial. However, this market took a sharp downfall in the 1930s when synthetic dye came onto the market with more regular colors.

The people of Roussillon saw the abandoned mine as an opportunity, and have turned it into something tourists can walk through. There are violent shifts of oranges and reds and yellows throughout the dirt and cliff walls. Perhaps it was simply the effect of seeing so much warm color, but the trees seemed intensified in terms of value as well. They were ripe with purples and blues, and the leaves and grass were the most lusciously green I’ve ever seen them. The cliffs of ochre were a vibrant experience, or as Carolyn Hepler-Smith -one of the students in the Advanced Painting class- put it, “I felt like I was walking on another planet.”

Sean Muldrow, BFA Painting
Photo Credits: Ann Haley; Sean Muldrow

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