THINKING COLOR

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Turquoise and Pre-Columbian Culture

Colors have many different meanings across cultures. One of the oldest and most important colors with cultural significance is turquoise. Across pre-columbian America the colorful stones could be found in almost every society and carried with them important cultural, and colorful meanings.

 

The Navajo tribe, of what is now the western United States, attached an almost religious significance to the color turquoise. Turquoise stones are very common in the area which the Navajo call home and the brilliant blue creates a stark contrast to the desert landscape. Turquoise represented happiness, luck and health to the Navajo. Most importantly though the color became a staple of Navajo fashion and jewelry a tradition which continues today.

Farther south in the Yucatan peninsula, the Maya were taking the importance of turquoise to another level that would become synonymous with their culture. Beginning around 500 A.D. Mayan artists began combining indigo with palygorskite and heating the mixture to 200 degrees. This process created a semi organic pigment that is still known as Maya blue. The pigment was used primarily to decorate religious objects and structures and is still visible 1500 years later.  

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In the coastal woodlands of the carolinas native americans also revered the color of turquoise. Cherokee indians used indigo to dye their clothes the brilliant blue color and also to created jewelry and trading items. The Cherokee created a trading network with the newly arrived europeans based on indigo. The great Cherokee leader Sequoyah is famously portrayed in a painting clad in brilliant turquoise clothing.    

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