Friday, January 4, 2019

Looking for people who remember making red ochre paint.

Restoring a stage in St. Julien's. Photo Heritage NL.  

Heritage NL is in the process of rejigging our historic paint colours chart and we would love your help. In particular, the Intangible Cultural Heritage office is doing some additional research on the historic and more recent use of red ochre as a paint pigment.

Back in 2016, we posted an interview on the blog with the late Mr. Gerald Quinton, of Red Cliffe, Bonavista Bay, talking about the use of red ochre and lime whitewash. You can go back and listen to that interview here:

People have been using variations on red (or yellow, or brown) ochre for pigments for hundreds if not thousands of years. Finland and Sweden have a long history of using Falu or Falun Red Ochre for paint, which you can still buy commercially, or you can look here for 20 recipes for traditional types of paints from Denmark (including fish and whale oil based paints) or download this Finnish red ochre paint DIY sheet.

A traditional Finnish falu red log house in √Ą√§nekoski, Central Finland. Photo Wikipedia.

Many of these paints use some type of linseed oil, and we know that historically, linseed oil was used for the production of some types of paints here in Newfoundland and Labrador as well. In 1843, the St. John's newspaper "The Star And Newfoundland Advocate," (1843-11-23, vol. 03, no. 158 p3) included an advertisement from W & H Thomas and Co, noting the arrival of goods from London, Liverpool, and Hamburg, including red ochre along with other paints. The Morning Courier, (1849-01-04 p3) noted that Richard O’Dwyer at his new stone premises had, from Liverpool, London and from Greenock, Scotland, a variety of goods including paint, oil (type not specified), "spirits turpentine," varnish, and red ochre.

By 1890,  P. & L. Tessier in St. John's was selling kegs of Dry Yellow Ochre Paint, and a variety of linseed oils, including: 30-gallon barrels of "Pale Boiled Linseed Oil"; 30-gallon barrels of "Pale Raw Linseed Oil"; and 1-gal. drums of "No. 1 Boiled linseed Oil" (The Colonist, vol. 05, no. 117, 23 May 1890, p2)

Red Ochre on a building in Jackson's Arm. Photo HFNL.

In the early to mid twentieth century, a lot of outbuildings and fishing stages were painted using a mixture of powdered red ochre and some type of oil, often cod liver oil or seal oil. We'd love to track down anyone with memories of making this type of paint, especially anyone who might remember a recipe similar (or different!) from Mr. Quinton's Red Cliffe version.

If you know of someone who might be good to chat with, you can get in touch with Dale Jarvis at 1-888-739-1892 x2 or email 

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