Indigo is an iconic American color, from the blue in American flags, blue jeans, and Boy Scout uniforms to the U.S. passport cover. How did this color become synonymous with the United States?
During the Spring of 2017, the Children’s Museum of Art and Social Justice worked with 5th and 7th graders from the south and west sides of Chicago to examine early indigo practices and learn from visiting contemporary artists who use the dye in their work. Students examined current dye practices and the environmental effects of clothing manufacturing before diving into the indigo dye process and several fiber art techniques, such as shibori and weaving.
Indigo, also known as Indigofera Tinctoria, was a staple crop in the American South. By the 1770s, indigo plants comprised one-third of South Carolina’s exports. The plant’s leaves contain a chemical that produces a rich blue, fade-resistant dye, but it was cultivated and fermented under horrendous conditions. Fermenting indigo plants were so odorous and repulsive that even buzzards refused to eat them.
The dyeing process with indigo is as complex as it is perilous, and the plantation owners in South Carolina had a limited understanding of it. The knowledge of the cultivation and recipes for using the plants came from the enslaved peoples of West Africa. At the start of the 19th century, indigo was replaced by cheaper synthetic dye. This iconic color is an American staple, but the history of its origins has become forgotten.
Admission is free for all ages. Donations are gladly accepted.
Monday – Friday | 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM
Saturday – Sunday | By appointment only
Every second Friday of the month
6:00 to 10:00 PM
Located in the Pilsen Neighborhood on the southern border of the historic Chicago Arts District.
A one-hour tour includes a conversation around each art exhibit, a short video, and an activist button-making activity. We are a small, one-room museum inside the KIPP Chicago regional office, so we can only accommodate groups of 25 people or fewer. Students in grades K-12 are welcome! Email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a tour.