Feb. 19 speaker uncovers history of NW Coast Native pigments and paint


In a wild tangle of multidisciplines that began as a simple question, art and science have merged, and Melonie Ancheta has begun to put together the long history of NW Coast Native pigments and paint technology. As a professional artist for many years, she’s always been fascinated with traditional materials and methods as a way of understanding the art the people who created it more comprehensively.

Early in her career as a NW Coast Native artist, she became consumed with the question of what pigments are the old blue and green made from. The question of green was answered pretty quickly, and Melonie was even able to prove the green pigment has been used by the Coast Salish for more than 3000 yrs. But blue, no one seemed to know or care. So Melonie immersed herself in finding the answer to that question. It didn’t come until 2010 when, after being given a small sample, she had that sample analyzed by Scanning Electron Microscope/Edax, which analyzes matter at an atomic level. This was the first scientific identification of the blue pigment on NW Coast artifacts.

While the blue pigment has turned out to be a very common, simple mineral, it has proven to have complex behaviors. This has led her research into areas she never imagined visiting such as chemistry, biochemistry, geology and several more disciplines. Melonie grumps that she even had to get a tutor to help her with the chemistry and physics.

Working alone conducting research and lecturing, Melonie has spent hundreds of hours studying artifacts, talking with conservators and curators and trying to map deposits of mineral pigments which may help us determine the provenance and dates of artifacts more clearly. Melonie’s persistent research into traditional NW Coast artistic practices has also led her to a more profound understanding of the deeper complexities of the practices, beliefs and behaviors, as well as insights into the cosmology of these early people.

This lecture series brings four wonderful artists to campus to discuss historical and contemporary Northwest artistic practices. Please join us to hear about their visual works and/or historical research on Pacific Northwest Coast art. This lecture series complements the course “Indigenous Arts of the Pacific Northwest Coast,” taught this term by Dr. Julia Sapin, an Art Historian in the Art Department. The series is sponsored by the Art Department.

The speakers and dates and times for the talks are:

  • Thursday, January 15, 5:30 pm: Felix Solomon, “Carving Tools and Techniques”
  • Wednesday January 21, 4:30 pm: James Madison, “Generations”
  • Thursday, February 19, 5:30pm: Melonie Ancheta, “Ancient Color”
  • Wednesday, March 4, 4:30 pm: Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, “what if there is no plan”

All events will take place in Miller Hall 138. These events are all free and open to the public.
For more information or for disability accommodations, please contact Julia Sapin, 360-650-3670

Monday, February 9, 2015