Nature by Design: Cochineal

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/exhibitions/2318800145/

Nature by Design: Cochineal

American cochineal [Dactylopius coccus], a small parasitic insect that feeds on the prickly pear cactus, was for centuries the source of the most coveted red pigment in the world. Imbued with profound artistic, cultural, and economic significance for indigenous peoples of Mexico and the Andean highlands of South America, cochineal was transformed into a widely traded global commodity upon European contact in the 16th century. For more than 300 years it was used around the world to impart color onto a variety of goods, most commonly textiles, until the advent of synthetic dyes in the mid-19th century caused its usage and value to decline. While historically it was favored for its ability to produce a highly desirable crimson red, here, contemporary designers consider the ways in which the insect's red carminic acid can yield shades ranging from soft pink to deep purple. Continuing to inspire innovation and creativity among today's makers, cochineal remains an inimitable material for the 21st-century designer.

Nature by Design: Cochineal

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/840501687/

  • silk, wool, moriche palm fiber, copper, metallic yarn; dyed with indigo, cochineal, eucalyptus, onion and lengua de vaca (rumex spp)
  • Museum purchase through gift of Suzanne Tick, Dorothy Waxman, and Maylene M. Syracuse and Michael Trenner in memory of Richard M. Syracuse

Nature by Design: Cochineal

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318793208/

  • hemp, cochineal-dyed alpaca, natural brown cotton, natural alpaca
  • Museum purchase from General Acquisitions Endowment Fund and through gift of Elena Phipps

Nature by Design: Cochineal

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318793610/

  • Designed by Gloria Cortina
  • cochineal lacquer, wood, bronze, black obsidian

While the streamlined curves of this console reference the design aesthetic of modern French opulence and glamour popular in the early 20th century, Black Hawk serves an homage to the perception of luxury in the Aztec Empire. Prior to European contact, the Aztec court administered a complex tribute system whereby indigenous subjects supplied the emperor with a variety of coveted and labor-intensive goods, among them cochineal and bird feathers. The cochineal-lacquered surface alludes to the 20 bags of cochineal paid every 3 months and the central panel designed in a stylized feather pattern references the hundreds of feathers regularly given to the empire to create elaborate feather works for ceremonial paraphernalia and royal garb.

Nature by Design: Cochineal

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318793730/

  • watercolor over photograph
  • Department of Botany, National Museum of Natural History, Plate number 4703

Nature by Design: Cochineal

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318793731/

  • watercolor
  • Department of Botany, National Museum of Natural History, Botanical Art Plate 0187

Nature by Design: Cochineal

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318793734/

  • watercolor over photograph
  • Department of Botany, National Museum of Natural History, Botanical Art Plate 4728

Nature by Design: Cochineal

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318793735/

  • cochineal insects in glass jar (a) and original collector's paper tag (b)
  • E1463-0, Smithsonian Institution, Department of Anthropology

Nature by Design: Cochineal

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318793736/

  • specimen
  • US National Herbarium, Department of Botany, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, 00179298

Nature by Design: Cochineal

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318793737/

  • watercolor
  • Department of Botany, National Museum of Natural History Plate 170

Nature by Design: Cochineal

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318793738/

  • Manufactured by Bi Yuu
  • tapestry weave of alpaca, silk, and metallic threads; cochineal dye
  • Museum purchase from General Acquisitions Endowment Fund

Fascinated by the chemistry of cochineal’s carminic acid, Centeno uses its chemical structure and molecular formula as design motivation for this woven textile. Working with master dyers and weavers from the Teotitlán del Valle region in Mexico, Centeno manipulates cochineal dye baths with a variety of additives to yield a spectrum of tones and colors. On display with the wall hanging is a handmade booklet with a range of cochineal dye samples showing the results of dye recipe tests that helped her produce the final work on view.

Nature by Design: Cochineal

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318793739/

  • Designed by Fernando Laposse
  • cochineal-dye sisal, hammered aluminum, led light
  • Courtesy of Fernando Laposse

For Lapossse, locality and historical context take center stage in every object he designs. Here, he explores the rise and fall of two important Mexican commodities—cochineal and sisal by recovering the beauty and utilitarian qualities of each material. Once widely used for a variety of goods, cochineal and sisal fell into disuse with the invention of chemical dyes and plastic. In this whimsical lampshade, sisal, commonly employed for ropes and fishing nets, is transformed by the cochineal dye typically reserved for the most sumptuous fabrics to produce a delicate balance of color and textures.

Nature by Design: Cochineal

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318793740/

  • Designed by Gloria Cortina
  • cochineal pigment, board, nails, and cotton string
  • Courtesy of Gloria Cortina and Holland and Sherry

In 1523, following the fall of the Aztec Empire, conquistador Hernán Cortés reported to the King of Spain Charles V about a red dye that could benefit the Spanish textile industry. It did not take long for Europeans to recognize American cochineal’s ability to produce a remarkable range of reds for wool, silk, and other luxury-based textiles. This hand-painted wallpaper installation illustrates the international economy of an insect, which, after silver, became one of the most valuable Spanish exports from the Americas. The abstracted world map shows how cochineal traveled the globe as a result of the colonization of the Americas, prompting the exploitation of not only natural resources, but of indigenous labor forces that oversaw the cultivation of this insect in mass.

Nature by Design: Cochineal

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318800157/

Nature by Design: Cochineal

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318800158/

Nature by Design: Cochineal

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318800160/

  • printed on paper
  • Courtesy of Smithsonian Libraries, Q41 .L8 R88p v. 8, no. 94 1673

Nature by Design: Cochineal

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318800162/

  • Manufactured by Emerging Objects
  • 3d-printed nylon, resin, and cochineal dye
  • Courtesy of Emerging Objects

In Mexico City, scholar José Antonio de Alzate y Ramírez published in 1777 a written and illustrated scientific account on cochineal. Virginia San Fratello and Ronald Rael of Emerging Objects drew on this material, inspired by the traditional equipment used for killing cochineal, as the basis for these unique pieces. The designers experimented with cochineal dye to develop their own material recipes, the results of which are these boldly colored, tactile 3D-printed objects.

Nature by Design: Cochineal

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318800163/

  • Manufactured by Emerging Objects
  • 3-d printed nylon, resin, and cochineal dye
  • Courtesy of Emerging Objects

In Mexico City, scholar José Antonio de Alzate y Ramírez published in 1777 a written and illustrated scientific account on cochineal. Virginia San Fratello and Ronald Rael of Emerging Objects drew on this material, inspired by the traditional equipment used for killing cochineal, as the basis for these unique pieces. The designers experimented with cochineal dye to develop their own material recipes, the results of which are these boldly colored, tactile 3D-printed objects.

Nature by Design: Cochineal

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318800165/

  • Manufactured by Emerging Objects
  • 3-d printed nylon, micaceous clay, and cochineal dye
  • Courtesy of Emerging Objects

In Mexico City, scholar José Antonio de Alzate y Ramírez published in 1777 a written and illustrated scientific account on cochineal. Virginia San Fratello and Ronald Rael of Emerging Objects drew on this material, inspired by the traditional equipment used for killing cochineal, as the basis for these unique pieces. The designers experimented with cochineal dye to develop their own material recipes, the results of which are these boldly colored, tactile 3D-printed objects.

Nature by Design: Cochineal

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318800166/

  • Courtesy of Marisol Centeno

Nature by Design: Cochineal

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318800168/

  • Manufactured by Emerging Objects
  • 3-d printed nylon, cochineal dye
  • Courtesy of Emerging Objects

In Mexico City, scholar José Antonio de Alzate y Ramírez published in 1777 a written and illustrated scientific account on cochineal. Virginia San Fratello and Ronald Rael of Emerging Objects drew on this material, inspired by the traditional equipment used for killing cochineal, as the basis for these unique pieces. The designers experimented with cochineal dye to develop their own material recipes, the results of which are these boldly colored, tactile 3D-printed objects.