Exhibit: The Red That Colored the World at the Bowers Museum

 

When crushed, these iridescent, dried bugs yield a deep red dye. Photo: Kate Larson.

When crushed, these iridescent, dried bugs yield a deep red dye. Photo: Kate Larson.

Cochineal bugs yield a marvelous red dye that has been a favorite among spinners, weavers, and embroiderers for many generations. Today, cochineal is used by both traditional and modern fiber artists across the globe, and it is often included in guild dye-day events.

 

The fiber world has been buzzing this year about a new traveling exhibit organized by the Museum of International Folk Art: The Red That Colored the World. This massive exhibit “tells the extraordinary story of the cochineal bug, which had been in use for centuries in the Americas before it was discovered in sixteenth-century Mexico by Hernán Cortés and other Spanish conquistadores. The bug’s juice was found to create a red dye unparalleled by any other in nature, thus changing art, science, fashion, and history forever.”

 

Man’s camisa (tunic), Chile, Arica (?), 16th–17th century. Camelid hair, feathers; discontinuous warp and warp patterning, 35. x 54. in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of John B. Elliott through the Mercer Trust, 2000 (2000.160.25).  Photo © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY.

The Red That Colored the World: Man’s camisa (tunic), Chile, Arica (?), 16th–17th century. Camelid hair, feathers; discontinuous warp and warp patterning, 35. x 54. in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of John B. Elliott through the Mercer Trust, 2000 (2000.160.25). Photo © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY.

 

The Red That Colored the World follows cochineal’s presence in the pre-Columbian Americas, through Europe, and beyond.  Through textiles, paintings, manuscripts, and decorative arts, you can explore the politics and science of color. The exhibit reopened in October at Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California, and will be on view through February 21, 2016. On December 12, the museum is hosting a red color-mixing workshop for artists, and you can stop by the courtyard to see a cactus sporting some live cochineals—don’t miss it! For more information see the Bowers Museum website.

 

Firefighter’s ceremonial coat (kajibanten), Japan, 18th–19th century, Edo period. Wool with gold- and silk-thread embroidery and applique, 38 x 48 in. John C. Weber Collection.  Photo by John Bigelow Taylor.

The Red That Colored the World: Firefighter’s ceremonial coat (kajibanten), Japan, 18th–19th century, Edo period. Wool with gold- and silk-thread embroidery and applique, 38 x 48 in. John C. Weber Collection.
Photo by John Bigelow Taylor.

 

Octopus bag, Tahltan tribe, Northwest Coast, United States, ca. 1860–1870. Wool, cloth, beads, 21 17⁄64 x 9 27⁄32 in.  Photo: Ron Spencer, courtesy Ralph T. Coe Foundation for the Arts.

The Red That Colored the World: Octopus bag, Tahltan tribe, Northwest Coast, United States, ca. 1860–1870. Wool, cloth, beads, 21 17⁄64 x 9 27⁄32 in. Photo: Ron Spencer, courtesy Ralph T. Coe Foundation for the Arts.

This exhibition was organized by the Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA, and made possible by the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities and circulating through Guest Curator Traveling Exhibitions.

 

Interested in learning more about natural dyeing? Check out Natural Dyeing and Overdyeing with Natural Dyes, two great videos from Dagmar Klos.

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