DIY Heiroglyphics

Not far from my house and just a few thousand years ago, an ice-free corridor opened up between the prairie ice sheet and the mountains.  As temperatures warmed, these Clovis people wandered up the Bow Valley to hunt and collect rocks for tools.  These wanderers came and went for the last ten thousand years and the Stoney Indians finally settled here around 500 years ago.

They refer to Canmore as Chuwapchi_pchi_yan Kude Bi, which translates to “the place where a hunter was fooled into thinking a stump was something else.”  No wonder I feel at home here!  I wouldn’t refer to myself as a hunter, but I certainly get fooled like this enough in my work and recreation.

Few signs remain of the people that wandered through here.  Several Pictographs can be found close by.  Amazed by the longevity of this artwork exposed to the reckless hate of the elements, I set out to DIY some rock art.  But first, here is the original in the canyon above Grassi Lake on the other side of the river from our place.

The paint is made by first collecting clay from an ochre mine 75km away.  The clay is then burned and mixed with animal fat.  The ochre pit is a surreal place.  Fiery orange liquid cascades from a hillside spring and coats a low swamp before draining into the Vermilion River.  Anyone traveling up the river would see a ten meter orange stain on the shore and surely hike up to see what it was.

Above: the ochre spring where I collected a lump of clay. To see more surreal pics from this natural oddity see my picasa album.

I suppose to be a purist I ought to have burned the  handful of orange muck I collected in an open fire.  I chose instead to do it in the oven.  Below is the ground clay baking  and then with vegetable oil mixed in. The original painters probably used bear grease as fixative.

I painted the mixture on a piece of shale that was a little too dark but had the virtue of being flat.  I made a poor imitation of the Grassi Pictograph and this rock will sit on the deck exposed to the elements.

Above is my pictograph which even the next day surprised me by how well the paint adheres to the rock.  I have it sitting vertically against the house similar in aspect to the Grassi Pictograph.  I’ll check back in spring to see how well it survived.


map showing location of Canmore pictograph and ochre mine

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4 Responses to DIY Heiroglyphics

  1. Kevin says:

    I find this pictograph particularly iconic. It would be fun to find a natural mordant, perhaps veggie oil is good knowing how hard it is for me to wash spilled homemade salad dressings off my clothes, and see if you could make an iconic Canmore shirt!

  2. Nice work, Doctor! I ‘d sure like to see some production in time for QNY.

  3. Dave says:

    With so many dissolved metals in the spring water, it’s possible that natural mordants are already found in the source material. I still have some paint left so I guess I’ll try dyeing some fabric and see what happens.
    Next DIY is making my own gunpowder from local materials.
    h/t to Captain Orange for many inspiring DIY posts.

  4. Kevin says:

    My next DIY is a rig to smoke my own salmon by converting a chiminea.

    I recall that the Lascaux paintings in France (30,000 years BCE) incorporated charcoal into their mix as well as lime I think.

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