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At PRI one of the three aspects of our mission is to support and share research about pigments across disciplines and borders. 
Ancient human skull that has been coated with red ochre is an indication of our long relationship with ochre

Research about pigments is critical to understanding our past as humans, how cultures around the globe evolved and the importance of pigments to human life. Consider the work being done by Dr. Tammy Hodgskiss Reynard and others at institutions such as the Origins Center in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Dr. Jillian Huntley at the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research. At both these centers, and among pigment researchers everywhere, pigments have claimed their space and are revealing aspects of the past that cannot be accessed by any other means. 

In my own research into traditional Northwest Coast Indigenous pigments and paint technology, I have discovered aspects of the past that are integral to the revitalization of these cultures and which provide better understanding of and insights into socio/political systems, practices, cosmologies and world views that have been hiding within the realm of pigments. 

Coast Salish spindle whorl with remnants of celadonite paint
Thomas Little's (@aruralpen) collaborations with physarum polycephalum (common slime mold) demonstrates that even the mos

One great example of back yard pigment research is Jules Bishop's discovery of a use for supernatant, the leftovers from making lake pigments that usually get thrown out. While most people would not consider that research, it is in fact experiments just like Jules' that can stretch the boundaries of our thinking and knowledge. 

Not all research goes on in laboratories or institutions by professional scientists, historians and researchers. The vast majority of research is conducted in artist's studios, kitchens and back yards and provides a wealth of information for the rest of us. Thomas Little's (@aruralpen) collaborations with physarum polycephalum (common slime mold) has demonstrated that even the most innocuous seeming life forms can reveal astonishing things through pigments. 

Artist Jules Bishop experimenting with supernatant, the waste from making lake pigments

Photo courtesy of Melonie Ancheta

Conservators at the Metropolitan Museum conducting pigment research

Photo courtesy Jules Bishop

Then there are the people who are working in labs studying the chemistry and physics of pigments to unlock the secrets they hold.

Then there are those who are working in conservation labs revealing the hidden layers of information held within old paintings. 

What about Julie Beeler, creator of the Mushroom Color Atlas, who is investigating the incredible array of pigments produced by fungi. In a world where we are looking for sustainable means of producing pigments, the fields of mycology and microbiology are integral to developing new means of obtaining pigments.  

And don't forget the less well-known kinds of research such as that conducted by microbiologist, Mia Urem who is exploring the pigment-making capacities (and reasons) of microbes.

Colors extracted from various mushrooms by Julie Beeler who created the Mushroom Color Atlas
A microbial handprint made by pressing a hand onto agar revealing the natural pigments formed by microbes

Photo courtesy Mia Urem

From backyards and kitchens to high tech laboratories and on to our entire globe, research is going on at all levels by people working with pigments and PRI celebrates and encourages that curiosity and drive for answers. 

If you are involved in a research project or conducting your own research into some aspect of pigments that you'd like to share with others, join our Forum, email us, or post on our Instagram; we want to hear what your research is revealing! 

Then we have researchers who use Earth itself as their lab. Dr. Morgan Williams, soils scientist and mineralogist, investigates from the surface downward to reveal ancient information about our color-making materials and how we can better connect with the land. 


Photo courtesy Morgan Williams

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