Showing posts with label ochre. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ochre. Show all posts

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Today's Red Ochre adventure: from bucket to board, an experiment!

We've been doing some research here on the traditional use of red ochre (you can read our preliminary research right here) and how people used to mix it with some type of oil (linseed, seal, or cod liver) as a paint for outbuildings in Newfoundland and Labrador.

A while ago, Heather Fifield, the Coordinator of Laboratories and Services at the Department of Biochemistry at Memorial University, emailed me about some seal oil that Dr. Fereidoon Shahidi's lab no longer needed. So today, I picked up a bucket of the stuff and carefully transported it back to our office.

As an experiment Michael Philpott in our office treated one side of a piece of wood with the pure oil, and then we mixed the oil with some powdered red ochre I had been given by Pete Porter of Change Islands. Michael coated the other side of the board with the red ochre/seal oil mix, and now we'll see how long it takes to dry. Even just a small amount of oil and ochre gave us a beautiful first coat stain, and we're looking forward to seeing how it looks after another coat.

We've been floating around the idea of doing a bigger project, mixing up a larger amount of red ochre paint and testing its effectiveness on an outdoor project like a stage or store. Stay tuned!

If you've got a memory of red ochre (or have some in your shed) send me an email at

Friday, April 5, 2019

Reddin' lines and ochre boxes - how many of you have one of these in your shed?

photo courtesy David Boyd, Twillingate 

The primary use of red ochre by settlers to Newfoundland and Labrador was as a paint or stain colourant. One small example of its use as a colourant can be found in the Dictionary of Newfoundland English, which includes the compound word “ochre-box” meaning a “container in which ochre and water are mixed and a length of string dipped to mark timber for sawing,” also called a reddening box (Story et al. 355). In July 1964, Dorman Miles of Herring Neck described the use of such a box for researchers John Widdowson and Fred Earle:

They’d have the reddin’ lines, the used to call it. They used to strike the [log] with a marking line, with red ochre on it. That would leave the mark on the log where he wanted to come along and saw (Story et al. 408).

In July 1967, Raymond Morey, a resident of La Scie, described the box for the same researchers:

A red’ning box, you know, but some people call it a ochre box. This is a old red’ning line I was telling about lining the sticks. You use ochre in there and a drop of water (Story et al. 408).
Carpenters today are familiar with the more modern chalk lines that work in a very similar way. The handmade example in the photo above comes from the collection of Mr David Boyd, Twillingate, who runs the Prime Berth Fishing Heritage Centre ( If you drop by this summer, I'm sure he'll show it to you!

Work cited

Story, George, et al. Dictionary of Newfoundland English. Second Edition. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1990. 

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 

Friday, May 20, 2016

#FisheriesFriday - Red Ochre and Lime Whitewash, an interview with Gerald Quinton

Back on the 24th of September in 2006, I did an oral history interview with Mr. Gerald Quinton at his home in Red Cliffe, Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland, on the topic of red ochre paint and lime whitewash.

We sat at Mr Quinton’s kitchen table, overlooking the John Quinton Limited red store below by the water’s edge, which was designated as a Registered Heritage Structure by the Heritage Foundation of NL in June 1994.

Mr. Quinton was full of information about the traditional methods of painting fisheries buildings, dwelling houses, and fences, and shared his recipe for making red ochre paint.

Gerald Quinton: You’d get some kind of container, hey? A big container, and twenty pounds of ochre to a gallon of seal oil. That’s the mixture. Twenty pounds of ochre to one gallon of seal oil. And you’d mix it one year and use it the next. You’d use, like, a wooden paddle for stirring it, every now and then, something wide like a paddle, wooden for stirring it. You’d keep stirring it every now and then, probably twice a month or something like that. And you’d use it the next year then. But if you found it too thick, then, you’d thin it down a little with a little seal oil, if you found it too heavy to put on with a brush. It’d give you a heavy coat, a good coat, then. You wouldn’t have to do it twice, just the one coat is sufficient. So, it’s a good coat. Not much smell from it, seal oil. No, not much smell at all. Just a little while you’re stirring is all. It’s a good coat, b’y. Yeah, that’s right.

Mr Quinton passed away in 2009, but you can listen to the audio of the interview on Soundcloud here: