The Ochre Machine

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My experience in the region of Provence has been one that I will never forget. On Wednesday, October 17, 2012, I was one of the painting students that participated in a field trip to the ochre factory in Roussillon, a small town not far from Lacoste that has one of the most unique ochre factories in the world. Experiencing the town was like walking into a historical diary. All of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionist artists from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries used ochre pigments from here. The view of the city has a transcendental feel. The houses and buildings within it are reddish and golden in color, which gives off a glowing presence. The effect comes from the master masons of that era, who used bricks with ochre embedded inside.

The highlight of the tour was seeing and learning about the machinery used to produce the ochre pigments. There was one machine, a specially designed oven that caught my attention instantly. To create the reddish ochre hue, a process of burning must be used to change the ochre’s original golden yellow color. Ochre has the element of iron oxide inside of it and when heated to a high temperature its color changes to a red hue.

Our tour guide, Cecelia, excellently explained how the ochre factory functioned in its prime. When we see the ochre pigments in art stores, most people take for granted the work it took to make it. Manual labor was the primary key to the ochre making process. Over time, men have put their lives on the line everyday. The working conditions were harsh and many of them inhaled the fine pigment particles. Over time, this caused lung complications called silicosis. However, because of their courage we can now see their hard work and dedication throughout the town.

Overall, my experience in Roussillon reminded me of the daily made sacrifices by the men who provided the beautiful pigments used in the town’s construction. It has made me more appreciative of the materials I use to create my artworks.

By: Charles “Chuck” Parham, M.F.A. Painting Student, SCAD Atlanta

All photos credited: Charles “Chuck” Parham

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