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Friday, July 12, 2013

Loving Royal Purple

Murex - the snail that gave us purple
Tyrian purple is the purple dye of the ancients and mentioned in texts dating back to about 1600 B.C.  This color was produced from the mucus of the gland of various marine snails, most notably the Murex.

The process of making the dye was long, difficult and expensive. Thousands of the tiny snails had to be found, their shells cracked, the snail removed. The snails were left to soak, then a tiny gland was removed and the juice extracted and put in a basin, which was placed in the sunlight. There a remarkable transformation took place. In the sunlight the juice turned white, then yellow-green, then green, then violet, then a red which turned darker and darker. The process had to be stopped at exactly the right time to obtain the desired color, which could range from a bright crimson to a dark purple, the color of dried blood. Then either wool, linen or silk would be dyed. The exact hue varied between crimson and violet, but it was always rich, bright and lasting

It took some 12,000 shellfish to extract 1.5 grams of the pure dye. Mountains of empty shells have been found at the ancient sites of Sidon and Tyre. Purple dyes were rare and expensive and only the rich had access to them.

In our current era, there has been a rebirth of purple, especially after Jenny Joseph published her poem titled "Warning" in 1961:
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
This poem seemed to spark a new movement where older women put on red hats with purple outfits in a blazing act of defiance in following societal rules and civil order. Add that with Jimmy Hendrix's "Purple Haze" and Alice Walker's "The Color Purple" it makes you wonder how that shade is able to generate so much creative subtle emotion and power.

Purple's place in our history and culture has been a backdrop story for wealth, art, poetry, political uprisings, and even nirvana. Ya got to respect something that has proven itself to be a powerhouse of change in almost every culture, all the while pretending it was just another ordinary hue.

History, Shellfish, Royalty, and the Color Purple
Jenny Joseph