by Diane Daly and Deb Shaw

The Opuntia cactus in the courtyard at the entrance to Bowers Museum. Another beautiful Fall day in Southern California. Photo © Deborah Shaw, 2015.

The Opuntia cactus in the courtyard at the entrance to Bowers Museum. Another beautiful Fall day in Southern California. Photo © Deborah Shaw, 2015.

BAGSC members Diane Daly, Deb Shaw, and new BAGSC member Linda Carpenter spent a gorgeous Fall day at the Bowers Museum on November 22, demonstrating botanical art and talking with visitors to the Museum. BAGSC members are demonstrating in conjunction with the Bowers exhibition “The Red that Colored the World,” on display through February 21, 2016.

Cochineal (Dactylopius coccus) is a scale insect that lives on Opuntia cacti. The insect produces carminic acid, from which carmine dye is derived. The females and their nymphs secrete a waxy, white web to protect them from the sun and predators. Photo © Deborah Shaw, 2015.

Cochineal (Dactylopius coccus) is a scale insect that lives on Opuntia cacti. The insect produces carminic acid, from which carmine dye is derived. The females and their nymphs secrete a waxy, white web to protect them from the sun and predators. Photo © Deborah Shaw, 2015.

There is a huge Optuntia (Prickly Pear) growing in the courtyard at the entrance to the Bowers, serendipitously covered with Cochineal. We were lucky to have a large pad that had fallen to the ground, and, in addition to botanical art, we were able to show visitors the Cochineal scale insect, the color, and even some Mealybug Ladybird (ladybug) larvae who were feasting on the Cochineal. It was a whole world on one cactus pad. Visitors to the museum were fascinated (as were we!).

Live Cochineal (under the white on the Opuntia cactus paddle); dried Cochineal; and paint from the crushed insects. Photo by Diane Daly, © 2015, all rights reserved.

Live Cochineal (under the white on the Opuntia cactus paddle); dried Cochineal; and paint from the crushed insects. Photo by Diane Daly, © 2015, all rights reserved.

Diane Daly teaches at the Bowers Museum Treasures Program, which reaches out to senior centers, community centers, libraries, social service agencies and residential communities, engaging older adults who may be feeling isolated through art. The Thursday program focused on Cochineal as well, complete with demonstrations of crushing the bugs and using them to make paint. The seniors then painted an Aztec design using the paint. They could add lemon juice to some of the paint, which made it a lighter, warmer red.

Deborah Shaw will be teaching a a two-day color mixing class, “What’s Cool (and Warm) about Red” (with paint from the art supply store) on Saturday, December 12 and Sunday, December 13 at Bowers. Registration is through the Bowers website.

Additional BAGSC demonstration days in conjunction with the exhibition will be held in January and February. Come join us and learn about a color that changed the history of the world, that’s still in use today. (You’ll be amazed at how much Cochineal is still used in food, make-up and clothing dyes.) Email Deb to sign up!

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