Heidi Gustafson is Archiving Mankind's First Pigments

Monday November 18, 2019 Written by James

Before there was Photoshop – before there were even paintbrushes – mankind’s art supply store was stocked with wall-to-wall ochre: a natural metallic pigment that can be ground up with water and used as paint. Very handy for decorating your pre-historic cave.

But for Heidi Gustafson, the importance of ochre goes way beyond basic anthropology. In her cabin in the woods of Washington state, Heidi has assembled the world’s biggest collection of ochre pigments, foraged from all over the world.

Heidi found some of these herself, digging around Puget Sound with a knife and small magnet (ochre is mostly made of iron), while others have been submitted from overseas. Together, they span all colours of the rainbow – if your spectrum consists of thousands of variations on muddy, reddish-brown.

So why all the ochre? Heidi told The New York Times she considers ochre the “heartbeat of the earth”, adding “a lot of my work is a super intimate practise of trying to touch that on some level”. Natural pigments are also a bit of an artistic trend right now. Heidi sells a lot of her colourings to artists around the country through her website Early Futures.