Green Oak

I really, really want to get refocused and ready to rejoin SCA life. I should start by reattaching my brain to Órlaith’s and do some research, right? Órlaith’s brain is full of interesting (to her at least) projects and A&S ambitions, Cee’s is wall to wall work, C#, CSS, SQL late nights and quite probably burn out. (I do not actually think I’m two people, to be clear, it just feels a bit like it right now) I haven’t been able to keep up with my interest in things forest either, so this post is a little bit of both, a forest related thing that feeds into my A&S interests.. Let’s go for Mushrooms, woodwork and colour?

This is Green or turquoise Elfcup, (Chlorociboria aeruginascens)

This is not my picture, I *hope* I am okay to link to it from, it was taken by Kate Nightingale in Swithland Woods, 16 August 2013 –

I have seen this fungus out and about but having trawled through my many, many mushroom photos (obsessed, moi? Why would you think such a thing?) I couldn’t find any that showed it well enough.

Aeruginascens – roughly “becoming blue-green” is very appropriate for this one; in real life the colour is really impressive and transforms the wood quite completely over time. I’ve only ever seen the coloured wood, never the little blue-green cups it also fruits with, but photographic evidence on the Internet suggests this is just bad luck on my part. In 1868 Paul Thénard extracted the pigment from wood, now known to be a quinone pigment commonly called Xylindein. He felt it resembled indigo, so he called it xylindéine, roughly wood indigo. However the pigmented wood was in use in Period for decorative pieces and was known as Green Oak. (The fungus thrives on oak deadwood in particular) Green wood and Green oak are common terms to wood workers, it far more usually refers to fresh timber, timber that has been cut between three and eighteen months after the tree has been felled and is used without any drying or preservative treatment. It means fresh rather than any hint of colour and large beams of green oak were used in ship building and castles (like our friends used in Sigginstown Castle). The thinking is that green oak was a lot easier for mere mortals and medieval tools to actually work with since seasoned, dried oak sometimes seems to believe it has more in common with rocks than timber. I was a bit surprised then coming across references to small pieces of pigmented timber as green oak instead.

Intarsia is a decorative wood based art that would have started with mosaic style images using different timbers instead of tiles, glass or stone. It was popular in Arab influenced Egypt in the 7th century and moved across Europe slowly, gaining great popularity in Italy around the 15th and spreading to Germany and elsewhere by the 17th. There were no added colours or dyes added after the piece was assembled, the art was in finding the best way to show distinctive natural colour and grain to best advantage, so woods like fruit woods, Rosewood (dark purple-red-brown), Teak: (golden brown/yellow) London Plane (speckled on silvery brown), Walnut (browns) Fig, holly and Boxwood: (pale cream, white), ebony (dark to jet black) and stag horn (used for pure white, usually for faces and hands) were expertly used to build intricate and beautiful pieces.

An absolutely beautiful example is the Studiolo from the Ducal Palace in Gubbioca (1478–82), Designed by Francesco di Giorgio Martini and available to view on The Met website Built with walnut, beech, rosewood, oak and fruitwoods in a walnut base it’s a spectacular feat. “Commissioned by Federico da Montefeltro, who was among the most powerful of the fifteenth-century Italian condottieri, the studiolo’s intarsia panels display a dazzling array of the accoutrements of the duke’s life—armor and insignia referring to his prowess as a warrior and a wise ruler, as well as musical and scientific instruments and books that attest to his love of learning. This humanist’s treasure trove, “stored” on shelves behind half-open lattice doors, is rendered with a most admirable understanding of the laws of perspective. The objects depicted and the shadows that give them such realistic volume are composed of thousands of pieces and slivers of different varieties of wood, each set with uncanny accuracy. After a decade of conservation treatment, the studiolo is once more a glorious and mesmerizing Renaissance interior. ” (Source: The Met website)

But it is in the piece The Finding Of Moses by Jacopo [Giacomo] Barozzi da Vignola that there is my favourite example of why I’m wittering on about the green elfcup.

It may be a little hard to see on this image, but on the series of arches there are leaves of a climbing plant in blue green – if you go to the source image you can zoom in and get all the gorgeous fine details. That’s Green Oak, and I love it.

The timber was used for all manner of decorative features in a range of and designs and wooden musical instruments. The use of naturally occurring green stained wood began to decline in the 18th century, most probably due to the lack of availability (the fungus grows slowly) and due to the increased use of stains and dyes. With very few exceptions, the use of naturally occurring green stained wood almost completely died out in the 19th century.

One of my interests is in how colour is extracted from natural substances, and how it would have been done in Period. Lichen dying is both well known and well documented but I am not having much success finding that mushrooms, even the specifically named Dyers Mazegill, were *definitely* used in Period, though given the general level of experimentation it seems likely it may have been at least attempted. Mushroom pigmentation really took off in the 20th century and there is a growing body of research into it as they offer alternatives to synthentic dyes in an age where we try to move toward natural, sustainable alternatives. I’m looking forward to more research in general terms and can recommend for anyone interested, but I am going to have to try to keep a lid on my non period experiments.


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