Merry Christmas!

I have visited in many Scottish Rite theatres that had additional sets of painted scenery non-Masonic productions. Usually, they were produced in the 1940s of 1950s.  It was an early form of community outreach raising the awareness of Freemasonry. If you are educated about a Masonic group or have entered a Masonic building and met the members, there is less of a tendency to fear and hate them.

I have repeatedly encountered a series of painted winter scenes, many for “Christmas Carol” productions. The first time was when I acquired my own Masonic scenery collection from the Valley of Peoria, Illinois in 2010. The most recent set of winter scenes that I documented were in Quincy, Illinois.

They were painted on the BACK of existing Masonic scenes produced by Toomey and Volland Studios (St. Louis).

Enjoy these particular images as they were VERY difficult to photograph on site. Please remember that they would have been flipped to face the audience during the winter season! We will celebrate the next twelve days of Christmas with “winter scenes” from Masonic theaters!


Cochineal and Kermes Reds

We discussed the madder root and reds that derived from that source. Here is another brilliant red made from insects!

Carmine Lake and many other brilliant reds originate with the Cochineal, or Kermes insect.  This is a small scale insect that infests a host plant.  Cochineal is native to the Middle and South American continent and was used by the Aztecs for dying and painting.  In the 16th century, the Spaniards brought their techniques back to Europe. They insect prickly pear cacti in clusters and appear as fuzzy white lumps on a sea of smooth green.  The insects are harvested by hand.  Extraction of the insect material is boiling the insects with ammonia or sodium carbonate; later alum is added to the solution, filtered and precipitated with citric acid, borax, or lime.

Similarly is the Kermes insect that also is used to make Carmine Lake.  Kermes scale insects are native to the Mediterranean area and infest trees, such as European oaks.  This dye was used on Hebrew tabernacle curtains and in Phoenician Art.  However, Kermes Lake is more fugitive than Cochineal Lake. The term kermes derived from Medieval Latin cremesinus (also source of French kermès and Spanish carmes), from Arabic qirmiz “kermes,” and from Sanskrit krmi-ja, a compound meaning “(red dye) produced by a worm.” Kermes lake is a pigment of a bright red color obtained from kermesic acid.

Kermes lake in another languages: English (kermes, kermes lake, kermes vermilio, kermes berry, kermin berry, kermesic acid (chemical compound), crimson lake, crimson lake, crimson, grain lake); Spanish (carmesí, rojo de grana, grana quermes, cármeso, carmesín, cremesino); French (kermès, cramoisi, crimson lake, sang de saint Jean, crammoisi; and Polish (karmin, lazur karminowy, karmin czerwcowy, lazur polski).


Here is a 19th century recipe for Superfine Carmine of Amsterdam:  Heat 6 buckets of rain-water, and when it commences to boil throw in 2 lbs. of finely-powdered cochineal; continue boiling 2 hours, and then add 3 oz. of pure water, and immediately afterwards 4 oz. of binoxalate of potash. Boil again 1 minute, then remove the vessel from the fire, and let the decoction stand 4 hours. Draw off the supernatant liquid with a syphon into numerous basins, and put them aside upon a shelf for about 3 weeks, at the end of which time a mouldy pellicle will be formed, which is to be carefully removed with a whalebone, or by means of a small sponge attached to the end of a stick. The water is then run off through a syphon, which must reach to the bottom of the pans, the carmine being so compact that it adheres. This carmine is dried in the shade, and is of an intensely brilliant hue.

Taking this dried pigment and making 19th Century Carmine Lake
Boil 2 oz. of cochineal in 1 pt. of water, filter the solution through paper, and add 2 oz. of pearlash dissolved in 1/2 pint of warm water and filtered through paper. Make a solution of cuttlebone, as in the former process, and to 1 pt. of it add 2 oz. of alum dissolved in 1/2 pt. of water. Put this mixture gradually to the cochineal and pearlash as long as any ebullition arises, and proceed as above.

Cochineal is still used in a variety of products – including some of the foods that we eat.  Although it is disgusting to think about eating bug dye, I am even more terrified of other food additives.

Cochineals and a resulting pigment variation

Cochineal Lake

Cochineal infestation


Cochineal – not to scale!

Note the cochineal extract on the bottom line.  This ingredient is especially prominent in drinks to make the color beautiful.


Not all yellows are created equal!

In light of yesterday’s blog concerning toxins found in Cadmium Yellow, I stumbled across an interesting article by Nicole Tonkham for Keetan’s Office and Art Supply. Tonkham takes on the challenge of understanding the chemical makeup of yellows in her 2016 article “16 Shades of Yellow: Understanding Pigments.”

The article can be found at:

Tonkham writes: “Cadmium yellow, Hansa yellow, Naples yellow… all yellow, all completely different colors. How can this be? Yellow is yellow, right? In the world of art, describing a color as “yellow” just won’t cut it. There are warm yellows, dull yellows, muted yellows, intense yellows, rich yellows, opaque yellows, and the list goes on. Is your head spinning yet? With so many options, you may be wondering how to determine the best yellow paint for your next project. To do that, you must understand PIGMENTS. Here’s the pigment low down so you know exactly what you need.”

She goes on to explain the differences between the various yellows pigments, dividing them into three main categories: Earth, Mineral, and Organic.

Earth PigmentsPigments found in the earth that tend to be opaque when modified with a modern process. Their intensity lessens when mixed with other colors. These are often muted colors (such as ochres and siennas) that have been used since artwork emerged on cave walls.

Mineral PigmentsThese pigments are found from metals, most being created during the Industrial Age began. Cadmium Yellow is a great example of this where the mineral pigment cadmium sulfide was used to create it. They tend to be opaque; low in tinting strength and high in chroma (purity/intensity).

Organic PigmentsThese are derived from pigments containing carbon, such as Hansa Yellow’s arylide. They are normally transparent and high in tinting strength and chroma (purity/intensity). These pigments will yield the most intense yellows.

Tonkham’s Cheat Sheet:

Nickel Titanate Yellow- Mineral
Cadmium Chartreuse- Mineral
Cadmium Lemon- Mineral
Cadmium Yellow Light- Mineral
Cadmium Yellow Medium- Mineral
Cadmium Yellow Deep- Mineral
Radiant Yellow- Mineral
Radiant Lemon- Mineral
Hansa Yellow Light- Organic
Hansa Yellow Medium- Organic
Hansa Yellow Deep- Organic
Indian Yellow- Earth
Naples Yellow Hue- Earth
Yellow Ochre- Earth
Gold Ochre- Earth
Transparent Earth Yellow- Earth

As painters and those in charge of purchasing paint products, we often forget to really look at the supplemental information that is included in Material Safety Data Sheets. There is often a hidden layer of ingredients that goes beyond the binder and filler outlined in the MSDS. We need to remember where the pigments originate from and the basic toxins present within every hue.

 My main message is that all artists need to educate themselves about every product they handle…and don’t stop there! Educate your students, staff, co-workers, and superiors. Think about what you are creating and the safest products to use before purchasing paint supplies.

On a similar note, Environmental Health News posted an article titled, “Yellow Pigments in clothing, paper contained long banned PCB (Polychlorinated biphenyls).” PCB-11 was banned in the United States 35 years ago, but was recently detected in nearly all samples of paper products sold in 26 countries and clothing sold in the United States. Because it is an unintentional byproduct of manufacturing, the PCB-11 found in consumer products is exempt from U.S. laws regulating the compound. This really is a must read: