Ochre is a naturally occurring earth based pigment that is found around the world in areas that tend to be rich in Iron. The word “ochre” comes from the Greek meaning “pale yellow,” and it can range in colour from orange to yellow, and from brown to red. Pure red ochre is composed of Iron Oxide (Fe2O3) which is also referred to as hematite. The other forms of ochre have water incorporated in their molecular structure which causes them to be yellow/orange in color. In cases where ochre has brown hues, manganese is usually present.
If yellow ochre is subjected to temperatures above 300 degrees Celcius the water is expelled from the molecules. This caused the colour to change from yellow –> orange –> red. There is evidence that humans have been using this process to create red ochre since the Middle Stone. Even today, most red ochre is produced this way, as the naturally occurring red ochre is not usually a pure enough shade of red.
In Newfoundland & Labrador, Deposits of ochre are found near Fortune Harbour (Notre Dame Bay) , Ochre Pit Cove (Conception Bay) and along the Shanapeushipis River in Labrador (Jenkinson and Ashini, 2014, p. 100-101). The earliest settlers likely used locally collected ochre as a pigment for their paints that were used to protect their stages and outbuildings. However, as time passed inhabitants were later able to purchase powdered ochre through local merchants. Most of this ochre was imported from England. That said, usage of local ochre for paint by frugal Newfoundlanders continued well into the 1970’s.
Typically, the powdered ochre was mixed with some type of liquid (usually seal, or cod liver oil) to create a basic paint. European / Scandinavian recipes typically utilized the a faster drying linseed oil. Regardless of the liquid component, the ochre paint was usually prepared months in advance and allowed combine thoroughly.
The colour of the red ochre paint is what we think of as “fishing stage red.” This color is not an exact one as the recipes, oils and ochre available locally would have had great variation.