Maya Blue

Maya blue is a remarkable pigment invented during the early classic period of the Mayan civilisation (c. 250 -900 C.E.). It is a combination of indigo, extracted from plants, and palygorskite clay, making it an unusual hybrid organic/inorganic pigment. It is a striking turquoise colour that is unusually stable. Overlooked by the Spanish, the technology was eventually lost during the colonial period, only to be retrieved during the late twentieth century.

In order to make Maya blue one must first extract the indigo from an indigo-bearing plant, by fermenting the leaves and then aerating the liquid. Maya blue was originally made with the leaves of the tropical indigo native to Central America, called ch’oj in Mayan. I have researched making Maya blue-style pigment with woad and Japanese indigo which can both be cultivated in Europe. Samples of this blue made from woad were analysed by Professor Antonio Doménech Carbó at the University of Valencia, Spain.

Maya blue has recently returned to the Mayan people through the work of Luis Manuel May Ku, a Mayan artist who is teaching his community how to cultivate ch’oj, and producing azul Maya ch’oj. He can be contacted via his facebook page ︎︎︎︎

© Sigrid Holmwood