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A Colorful Journey by Ngoc Anh Luu Dam

A Colorful Journey

by Ngoc Anh Luu Dam, SNPA Recipient 

Detail of “Nocturno”, Maria Dávila and Eduardo Portillo

Detail of “Nocturno”, Maria Dávila and Eduardo Portillo

Natural dye was featured at the workshop titled “Early Dyebooks and the Investigation of the Science of Color” held in the Getty Research Institute at the Getty Museum prior to the start of “New Directions: Examining the Past, Creating the Future,” the 14th Biennial Symposium of Textile Society of America (TSA) and also figured in panel presentations at the conference. Dr. Dominique Cardon, the International Advisor to the TSA Board and an Emerita Senior Researcher at the National Centre of Scientific Research (CNRS) in France, is a specialist in natural dyes.

Indigo textile

At the pre-Symposium workshop she introduced the history of natural dyes from ancient dye documents. She also presented ancient books, from the Getty’s rare collection of early European and American dye books and treatises, that record dyeing formulas and antique samples of dyed textiles from cochineal and madder.

This collection of primary sources, published between the 16th – 18th centuries, contain good quality color on textile samples, providing a rare opportunity for people who study antique natural dyes to see and record old dyeing formulas and dyed textile samples. Specialists at the Getty Conservation Institute presented research on the halogen-radiating method that they use to restore works such as carpets and paintings to their original colors.

At the Symposium Dominique Cardon organized a panel session presenting major issues in the field of natural dyes today: preservation of traditional knowledge, revival of uses, and inspiration for creativity and innovations.

Eduardo Portillo and Maria Eugenia Dávila, from Venezuela, introduced textile works made of silk, metal and indigo. It is unbelievable that fragile silk fibers could be combined with metal to form fabric. These fibers, after being processed, became more enduring and heavy-duty.

All of the textiles they presented had been woven using their own cultivated silk, Orinoco moriche palm fiber, wool, and cotton, dyed with indigo, cochineal, and eucalyptus. They also used copper and metal yarn. The couple devoted ten years to study indigo dye and its culture in different countries in Southeast Asia before embarking on this work.

Blue moments of daily life, using the indigo as vehicle and blue in nature as inspiration, led to work about blue in nature during sunrise, midnight, sunset, the clouds, and the stars. Jenny Balfour Paul provided nice words for their work: “To work with indigo is to experience its link with intuition and with love”.

Lòng mức nhuộm, co mụ - Wrightia laevis Hook.f

Lòng mức nhuộm, co mụ – Wrightia laevis Hook.f

PhD fellow, Luu Dam Ngoc Anh, Researcher of Viet Nam National Museum of Nature, VN Academy of Science and Technology, has reported new indigo species: Wrightia laevis Hook.f. which is widely used by black Thai communities in Vietnam. According to the world’s experts of this field, this species seems to be found around the world. Black Thai people have even developed sophisticated indigenous knowledge where they combine different dye plants to generate indigo dye. For example Pluchea indica (foliage), Aganonerion polymorphum (foliage), and Oroxylum indicum (bark) com- bined promote the fermentation coloring process of indigo.

Vietnam is a hot spot of the world’s biodiversity where natural dye fabrics are plentiful. The investigation and discovery of dyes through indigenous knowledge not only contribute to the preservation of this intangible cultural heritage but also open up the application-oriented production of natural dyes in industrial scale.

Opposite Page Figure 1: Detail of “Nocturno”, Maria Dávila and Eduardo Portillo; Figure 2: Indigo textile made by Black Tai people, Son La province, Vietnam; (below) Figure 3. Lòng mức nhuộm, co mụ – Wrightia laevis Hook.f

Ngoc Anh Luu DamNgoc Anh Luu Dam, is a PhD candidate and currently a researcher at the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources, Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology. She is responsible for investigating indigenous knowledge and experience in utilization of useful plants among ethnic minorities in Vietnam for the purpose of building a database on traditional knowledge and discovering new material resources for dyeing.