A History of Art - PhD student is leading a project to create pigments that would have been used during the medieval period. The Edinburgh Medieval Pigment Project is being run in collaboration with the Late Antique and Medieval Postgraduate Society (LAMPS), an Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) society. The team are currently planting species such as woad, weld and madder in the gardens at the Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) Lauriston Campus, and they will later be occupying the greenhouse in the Main Building.

Stephenie McGucken, who is researching depictions of women in late Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, was the president of LAMPS last year, and began by recruiting some of its members to assist in tending to the garden, which they hope will yield the plants that can produce the pigments.

The original idea for the project came from a meeting with Stephenie and her supervisor, Dr Heather Pulliam. Following a trip where she produced similar pigments in Italy, Heather was interested to find out how consistent the final pigments would have been between annual harvests, how pigments may have been stored, and whether or not manuscripts with consistent pigmentation would have been produced in one season. Stephenie was keen to try this out for herself, and was given the garden space to experiment.

“It’s giving me the opportunity to see how some of my monks and scribes would have handled these pigments, and what they went through to get those colours,” Stephenie said, “I’ll get to see the colours fresh once we’ve experimented and made the pigment. I’m obviously looking at manuscripts that are about a thousand years old, so the pigment’s faded. This’ll give me a bit more of a sense of what your audience would have seen.”

“We hope to get Textiles involved as one of the things we’re growing is woad, which you can dye with, and madder as well,” said Heather, “we know that when the monks would grow this, they would use them for clothes, so we’re looking forward to working with them. As well as Gordon [Brennan] in Painting, who’s been working with colour for a long time, and perhaps some of his students.”

“And then also other parts of the university outside of Edinburgh College of Art are connecting to this,” said Heather, “I’m giving a talk to some students from Celtic & Scottish Studies, and we’re planning on bringing some students round to take a look at the garden. And we’re also getting linguists involved…since we get different language terms for plants, but also of colours, and the two are often connected."

“Hopefully next spring…[we can] work with some community involvement,” said Stephenie, “we'll try and get some kids out here to make their own pigments, to paint with them, and hopefully get some of the art students involved as well.”