In 1859, Edwin Drake drilled the first oil-producing well in Pennsylvania, and the world was changed forever.
In addition to being used for fuel, oil was scientifically studied, and the many chemicals composing petroleum were gradually isolated. New substances that didn’t previously exist in nature were made, like plastics and modern paints. A 100,000 year old tradition for making natural earth paints began to slip away.
Producers of these new paints convinced people to change from traditional, natural paints by promoting the idea that their new products were more durable (despite the fact that ancient earth paints have lasted thousands of years) and modern. And even though these new paints were more expensive, people were persuaded to buy them, and most painters unfortunately changed their practices to adapt to the new fad.
With the new growth and wealth in the twentieth century, society greatly changed its relationship to the natural world, losing its spiritual connection and exploiting natural resources at alarming rates. Consumerism arose with its insatiable and unsustainable consumption of our planet’s raw materials.
Fortunately, creating with natural earth paints is experiencing a renaissance as artists strive to relate to the world more sustainably and connect to the environment in the same way our ancestors did. Artists are becoming more aware of the origins and properties of the materials they work with, and with an increase in understanding comes an increase in responsible art-making.