Natural Dye Initiative

Learning about Natural Dye

The Baltimore Natural Dye Initiative facilitates MICA, and the Fiber Department in particular, in expanding and deepening its curriculum related to natural dye. The project involves MICA and collaborators from Baltimore in co-creating learning and knowledge exchange opportunities for MICA and our city neighbors.

Two courses form the core of the Natural Dye Initiative at MICA: “Natural Dye as Intercultural Connector” and “Surface Resist and Dye: Color from Nature”.  Both courses aim to engage with artists and cultural workers in the Baltimore community and beyond to deepen local expertise and knowledge around the use of natural dyes, and support the development of economic and cultural opportunities related to natural dyes for residents of the Baltimore region.

The cultivation of dye plants at Hidden Harvest Farm and the Parks and People Foundation forms another key part of this learning journey.  The growing, harvesting and processing of natural dye plants affords pathways into understanding the artistry, chemistry and ecological impacts of natural dyes, while also engaging project participants in  grappling with the larger social and cultural context of this work. The historic enslavement of Africans and their descendants in this City and the dispossession of indigenous peoples and their land informs our approach to this work, as does a sincere effort to center and support people harmed by these histories and follow their lead in honoring ancestors, undertaking healing work and creating new cultural forms within the field of natural dye.  

Christina P. Day

Christina P. Day is a Professor in the Fiber Department, specializing in surface dye techniques, patterning, soft sculpture building, and textile based construction methods.  She has worked professionally as a dyer for the fashion industry and now teaches her workshop methods in classes in the Fiber Department at MICA. For the 2019-2020 academic year, she will be teaching Surface Resist Dyeing:  Color Through Nature, and the spring companion course of Surface Resist Dyeing:  Design, Multi Media Event I & II, and Soft Sculpture & Inflatables.  She additionally serves as an instructor in the First Year Experience Body/World/Machine class.  This past Spring on behalf of the Fiber Department, she attended the Natural Dye Symposium at the UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens hosted by the Slow Fibers Studio and attended workshops led by Michel Garcia and Rowland Ricketts.  She keeps a studio practice, very full garden and home in Philadelphia, PA. 

Valeska Maria Populoh

Valeska Maria Populoh teaches a number of courses in the Fiber and Foundation programs at MICA. She facilitates the Natural Dye as Intercultural Connector course and helps to coordinate aspects of the natural dye project. Valeska engaged MICA colleagues in developing principles and protocols grounded in racial equity to guide work on the project, and has focused on the recruitment and engagement of community partners. She is learning about the cultivation and use of natural dyes along with students and community collaborators involved in this project. Her background in organic farming and gardening, as well as working collaboratively and in coalition contexts on grassroots campaigns and cultural events as an artist, organizer and facilitator support her in navigating this complex project. Valeska has gone through anti-racism training with the Baltimore Racial Justice Action Network, the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond and has gone through facilitation training with Liz Lerman as part of the Critical Response Process. Working on this project is a profound learning experience in applying this training to real-world contexts. Valeska has lived in Baltimore since 2003 and considers this city her adopted hometown.

Piper Shepard

Piper Shepard has integrated natural dyeing into course offerings throughout her years in the Fiber Department. In 2016, she received a fellowship from the Japan-US Friendship Commission to travel to Japan to experience indigo cultivation, dyeing, katazome (resist printing) with some of Japan’s most honored practitioners and farmers. She has been a part of the planning, organizing, and visioning for MICA’s involvement in the Baltimore Natural Dye Initiative. She supports steering the projects curricular offerings, its programs and workshops. She has helped to introduce natural dye practitioners from across the United States to form community and counsel with the project. She participates in the Natural Dye as Intercultural Connector course. Piper is invested in the rich, complex conversations and aspects of natural dyeing, and believes this project to be a powerful experience that honors natural dye, people and community as a positive and compelling force for cultivation, creativity and making.