A year or two back, my father took my older brother Jonathan and I to visit our grandparents, who live in the village of Lamanon, in southern france. Over two weeks, my grandfather took us to see all the surrounding places, a few of them Marseille, Le Fontaine du Vaucluse, an old roman aqueduct, a roman bridge, a castle, a mansion, a creepy cave with stalactites and gigantic spiders, and the ochre museum in Roussillion.
The ground in and around Roussillon is a bright red to yellow color, so intense it seems unreal. This is because the ground is so rich in iron. Yes, I know that iron is neither red nor yellow, but, once hooked on with oxygen, it becomes iron oxide, which has pefectly eight electrons on on the outside shell, making it very stable (read this post if you don’t know what that means). Iron oxide is also known as “rust”, which is a, well, ‘rusty’ red color.
So the iron in the soil hooks on to the oxygen in the air, and we have iron oxide. A bit of H2O (water) turns the iron oxide an intense yellow, while the rest is that rustic red. During the late1700’s painting and coloring became very popular, so that is probably when the ground began to be mined for the ochre. Once it was mined, it was sent to be “processed; basically the iron oxide is seperated from the clay and then crushed into a fine powder, which was sent off to the greatest painters of the French court, or even to all of Europe. Nowadays, the ochre is processed using larger machines and safer methods (as before, workers had to keep cloths over their mouths to keep the dust from getting in their lungs!), and now the ochre is shipped all around the world, including Cottonwood, CA, where it is being used to tint lip balm that rustic red. http://www.hardlotion.com/newsletters/