Celebrating the colors of spring at the Marion Art Center

May 5, 2018

When Rhonda Fazio remembers studying art history and design at UMass Dartmouth, one particular class stands out in her mind.

"The professor took us outside and showed us how to create natural dyes out of plants. I was hooked," the DyerMaker Studios owner said to a crowd at the Marion Art Center on May 3.

Fazio was leading a course called "Dyeing to Wear It," part of the Marion Art Center's ArtWeek celebration. She handed participants a silk scarf.

"This is an exercise in control. You don't know what the final product will look like, and that's okay," Fazio said.

Then, she pointed out three vats of dye: yellow (turmeric), blue (indigo), and red (cochineal).

Cochineal, a rare and expensive dye, originates from the cochineal insect in Central America. Dried cochineal bugs are crushed into powder and boiled to make a brilliant red dye, which had class participants mesmerized.

"You see that? That's the finest bug blood, right there," Fazio said, holding up the dye bag.

Fazio is committed to using natural dyes in her work. Turmeric, which produces yellow, is a perennial plant native to India. It looks a bit like ginger; powdered, it appears to be orange. When a silk scarf is dipped into the dye and pulled back out, though, it's colored a shocking, almost electric yellow.

Indigo, a plant native to the tropics and southern India, produces a vibrant blue. The plant was originally brought to the United States via the slave trade, and spread by a young female plantation owner, Eliza Lucas. Indigo, when boiled correctly, looks green like a plant, but oxidizes to blue upon exposure to air.

Bug blood or no, the class was able to produce varied and colorful scarves ranging in color from sapphire blue to emerald green, sunset orange, electric yellow and scarlet red. Some were simply colored, while others featured striped or circles of several different colors.

"Just in time for spring!" Fazio said. "But don't forget, we have winter here, too."

"Not for me," one participant joked. "I go to Florida."