Mastodon Black

In the beginning of my search for a good black I knew that I would be burning something. There are a couple of minerals that can be used to create black, but usually the black on an artist’s pallet is made from the carbon left over after something has been subjected to the fire. And, without given it too much thought, I was pretty sure that I would be using bone to make my pigment.

But I was a little disappointed by this because I have really come to love the genuine ivory black that I usually use: It is much stronger in it’s opacity, more permanent and a better colour. But what could I do? In this project I’m only using materials naturally found within 100 miles and there aren’t any elephants in Ontario … or are there?

I was fortunate enough last week to hear Peter Russell, from the Earth and Environmental Sciences Museum at the University of Waterloo, recount his search for the dig location of the mastodon bones discovered at Highgate in 1890. Mastodons were prehistoric elephant-like mammals that were furry and stood roughly nine feet tall at the shoulder. So, perhaps there were “elephants” in Ontario, one just had to look back 10,500 years ago!


Afterwards I approached Peter and explained my project to him and asked if there was any chance that I might procure a small bit of mastodon ivory for my work. He thought he could help me out, and invited me to visit him at the museum. When I arrived later in the week, he had a little chunk waiting for me from what had been found in West Lorne back in the 1940’s

A special thank you to Peter Russel and the Earth from the Environmental Sciences Museum at the University of Waterloo for his wonderful help in this project.

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