Today I had the great pleasure of going into nearby Evansville and hearing Rowland Ricketts III speak about his life in indigo.
It is always a treat to see Rowland. Here is a man who is so wholly devoted to one substance, one central process, that his entire conceptual being is wrapped up in a single integrity which is hard to match in today’s world.
I have known Rowland for about 8 years now, watched him move from a man with a vision to a man with an intense reality. He grows his own indigo, processes it, ferments it, adds his home made lye (made of wood ash from his woodburning stove) and dyes his heart and everything else deep, calm blue.
|Immanent Blue, Installation at New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art, 2009.
gradated shades of dyed indigo panels; dried indigo plants
One of my favorite tangible things about him is his always-blue hands. In the plants, in the dye, every day. An additional beauty is that this dye is non-toxic and he CAN stick his hands into it with impunity (a question on his Facebook Page, Indigrowing Blue: “Can I use our kitchen blender? I don’t think there’s anything harmful in the Poligonum tinctorium leaves. ” His answer: “ I use just water and leaves. As much leaf and as little water as possible. You can use your kitchen blender.”)
|I am Ai, We are Ai. Installation of fabrics individually dyed by master dyers of Japan. Tokushima, Japan, 2013|
Today’s talk underlined his deep commitment to process as content. The integrity of the process, the deep craft, becomes his purpose and give meaning to every step. This is the way it is done. This is the way it has always been done, because this is the only, best way. From growing the plants, drying, pulverizing, sorting, composting and storing the final blue dye powder, to developing and fermenting the mysterious, alive and potent, indigo vat, Rowland’s world is deep, deep, deep.
|Dried and crushed indigo leaves, ready for composting (from www.rickettsindigo.com)|
|dip-dyeing paste-resisted fabric panels in an indigo vat (from www.rickettsindigo,com)|
|Ramie panles printed with indigo dyes. Shown at Melvin Peterson Gallery, University of Evansviille|
For information on the processes of growing indigo, processing the leaves into dye, and preparing the dye bath, there is a very helpful website that Rowland (consummate teacher that he is) has prepared about his Indigrowing Blue venture at Indiana University, where he is assistant professor of textiles. The site covers the process from saving seeds and planting them through harvest and drying the plants.
|Rickett’s indigo vat at Indiana Univesrsity, fermenting away. Photo from www.rickettsindigo.com|