French ochres

Workers smocks dyed in the ochre colors from Roussillon

In May 2010 I went to France for two weeks as part of a tour group Our itinerary included a workshop to study natural dyes with Michel Garcia, visit the French ochre fields, learn the magic of woad from Denise Lambert of Bleu de Lectoure and eat exceedingly well.  This was the land of foie gras and amazing pastries and I was determined to partake where and whenever I could.  I was part of the tour and my job was to chauffeur our guests in a large Mercedes Benz mini-van.  The second day out, I ran into a wall turning a corner and very nicely scraped up the entire side of the van, popped off the rubber siding and some other miscellaneous car part bits and incurred about 5,000 euros worth of damage in three seconds.  Luckily, we had taken out full coverage on the vehicle, so at the end of the trip all I had to do was hand the car rental clerk  the keys, give an expressive Gallic shrug and walk away.

We toured Roussillon, which is one of the ochre-producing regions of France and famous for its yellow and red cliffs of oxide-rich pigments.  The image above (mirrored) is a set of worker’s smocks that were dyed in the various ochre colors from the nearby mines.  The ochre factory at Roussillon produced many tons of ochres that were shipped worldwide during its mining and refining heyday.  Now it has been transformed into a conservatory of ochres and pigments.  It is a fascinating part of French industrial heritage and the Okhra factory is a worthwhile visit.

For more information, visit the Okhra website at (in French and German only)