Jiggery Pokery

I’ve been wandering around the shore of the Arno (on the southeast side) and I came across this striking plant.

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I was struck by its dramatic cyclamen coloured stems and structure so when I got back to the flat I had to Google it

Turns out that this is a plant with a history. Phytolacca Americana is a native American plant (not sure how it turned up in Italy) that has long been used as a dye, pigment and ink. There is even a legend that it was used to write the American Declaration of Independence.

Sadly “that was just a lie”*. The real charter was written in iron gall (oak apple) ink. It says everything about the geeky nature of my childhood that I was already acquainted with the calligraphic qualities of oak galls.

Pokeweed ink has fugitive qualities: it will turn brown over time and possibly fade way altogether. This did not stop me harvesting the berries and making my own ink. Pokeweed is toxic but luckily CONAD (the local supermarket) provides free plastic gloves because they don’t want you to fondle the produce. I stole some and waltzed back to the river.

I mashed them up in a bowl.

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Sieved the luxurious looking juice and added some salt as a preservative.

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I didn’t have a pen but I found some feathers dropped by the local pigeons – that’s another thing I remember doing as a kid #deprivedchildhood.

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It was a really easy process that only took about half an hour. I’ve still got some of the ink in the fridge and I’m working out a way to smuggle some back to the UK> I have the seeds too – apparently you need to soak them in concentrated sulphuric acid before they will germinate #wherethere’sawillthere’saway!

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But there is something else.

Yesterday I went to the Museo delle Porcellane in the Boboli Gardens and I came across this little darling.

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It’s an oyster server made by the Sevres factory in France during the 18th century – I could not help but be struck by the similarity in the rhythmic branching of the porcelain ‘tree’ and the pokeweed plant.

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Enough of messing about with ink.

I feel a sculpture coming on.

*From ‘Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley, 1956. The song had already been a blues hit for Big Mama Thornton in 1953. She sang a verse “You told me you was high class, but I can see through that,” which Presley altered to “well, they said you was high-classed, but that was just a lie.”

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About pennimania

Artist, entomologist, grumbler.
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