Skip to Main content
Close-up of blue dyed textile spread between two hands.

Deeper than Indigo

Southeast Textile Symposium

Flagler College Campus, February 21 - 23, 2019

Speaker presentations are free and open to the public.

Luncheon and Indigo Dye Workshop have limited space and a small fee.

Symposium Schedule

Thursday, February 21

Field Trip Day, (info to come in October 2018)

Friday, February 22

Welcome and Acknowledgements

Gamache-Koger Theater, Ringhaver Student Center, Flagler College Campus
1:00 – 1:30 p.m.

“Blue is the Warmest Color,” Indigo and the Textiles Collection of the Ruth Funk Center at the Florida Institute of Technology

Keidra Navaroli, Assistant Director and Chief Curator, Ruth Funk Center for Textile Arts, Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Florida
Gamache-Koger Theater, Ringhaver Student Center, Flagler College Campus
1:30 – 2:30 p.m.

“Indigo’s History in Northeast Florida”

Dr. Dan Schafer
Gamache-Koger Theater, Ringhaver Student Center, Flagler College Campus
3:00 - 4:00 p.m.

Contemporary Fibers, National Juried Textile Exhibition

Curated by Elizabeth Kozlowski
Tovar House, Saint Augustine Historical Society, 22 Francis St.
Opening Reception, 5:30 – 7:00 p.m.

Saturday, February 23

“Indigo past to present: Ossabaw Island and Colonial Georgia 1760-1782”

Elizabeth DuBose, Executive Director, Ossabaw Foundation, Savannah, Georgia
Gamache-Koger Theater, Ringhaver Student Center, Flagler College Campus
9:00 – 10:00 a.m.

“Material Culture: Identity and Privilege”

Panel Discussion

Elizabeth Kozlowski, Editor, Surface Design Journal, Independent Curator, PhD Candidate, Cultural Anthropology, Tulane, New Orleans, Louisiana
Lori Lee, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Flagler College, St. Augustine, Florida
Judy Newland, Studio Manager at Cloth Roads Fair Trade and Anthropology Faculty at CU Boulder

Gamache-Koger Theater, Ringhaver Student Center, Flagler College Campus
10:00 – 11:00 a.m.

“By Hand: Contemporary Practices in Fiber Arts”

Panel Discussion

Ann Chuchuvara, Textile Designer, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Laura Mongiovi, Associate Professor Department of Art and Design, Flagler College, St. Augustine, Florida
Bethany Taylor, Associate Professor, School of Art and Art History, University of Florida, Gainesville

Gamache-Koger Theater, Ringhaver Student Center, Flagler College Campus
11:15 a.m.   – 12:15 p.m.

Luncheon

Reservation and payment made before February 1, 2019
Virginia Room, Ponce Hall, Flagler College Campus
12:30 – 1:30 p.m.

Keynote Speaker

Rowland Ricketts, Associate Professor, School of Art, Architecture and Design, Indiana University, Bloomington
Gamache-Koger Theater, Ringhaver Student Center, Flagler College Campus
1:45 – 2:45 p.m.

Indigo Dye Workshop with Judy Newland

Reservation made before February 1, 2019
Studio 3 in Molly Wiley Art Building, Flagler College Campus
3:00 – 4:30 p.m.

Symposium Co-Directors

Elizabeth Kozlowski
MFA, Independent Curator and Editor, Surface Design Journal, New Orleans, PhD Candidate, Cultural Anthropology at Tulane University, New Orleans

Laura Mongiovi
MFA, Associate Professor, Department of Art and Design, Flagler College, St. Augustine

Reformation, Indigo, and the history of slavery in the Southern Colonies

"One hundred thousand slaves, Black or mulatto, work in sugar mills, indigo and cocoa plantations, sacrificing their lives to gratify our newly acquired appetites for…things unknown to our ancestors."

--Voltaire, Essay on Morals and Customs, 1756

Narrative by Elizabeth Kozlowski

Indigo has been recognized as the "king of dye" for millennia. The use of the plant's blue dye for adornment, religious ritual, and as a symbol of political and social status occurred independently in cultures around the world. The Sanskrit name for the dye derives from nila, an Indian word which translates to “dark blue” (and survives in our word, aniline). The ancient Greeks referred to the product as the Indian dye, indikon.

Indigo was also used in the Americas long before the arrival of Europeans. The Nahuatl of Guatemala called the native indigo xiuhquilitl (blue herb) and used it to paint murals, pottery and cloth. Yet, blue isn’t just a hue. Many Americans recognize the history of popular music including the blues, emerged from African-American gospel and work songs. However, few may realize that the color blue is also directly related to the African-American experience and slavery. The link is a deep blue natural dye, known the world over as indigo.

Introduced into Louisiana in 1763, indigo was the colony's top export. When the Spanish took over Louisiana (1769-1803) indigo continued to be the main cash crop in the area around New Orleans. Worm infestations at the end of the 18th century caused repeated crop failures and by 1800, planters turned to sugar, cotton, and tobacco.

The earliest workers on Spanish indigo plantations were Native Americans who were either enslaved outright or bound to the land like serfs through the feudal-style encomienda system. When the Spanish became convinced that the Indians were dying of diseases caused by indigo processing, they shifted them to field work and began buying African slaves to work the dye vats because they believed black slaves were less susceptible to illness.

The "Indigo Bonanza" referrers to a 30-year time period when indigo planters could double their money every three to four years. By 1775, indigo was responsible for over a third of South Carolina's income. On the eve of the American Revolution, South Carolina's planters were exporting 1.1 million pounds of indigo, with a modern value of $30 million. Producing indigo was labor intensive and, in the West Indies and American colonies, only possible through a system of slavery. Contemporary accounts indicate that when prices were high, indigo dyestuff could be exchanged for slaves; it is said that a planter in South Carolina could fill his bags with indigo and ride to Charleston to buy a slave with the contents, “exchanging indigo pound for pound of negro weighed naked.

The main export crop in British East Florida during the 1760s and 1770s was indigo. Located six miles north of St. Augustine and one-half mile east of the Atlantic Ocean, between the North and Guana Rivers, this site maps the area of an indigo plantation owned by James Grant, the first governor of East Florida. The majority of the laborers were born in Africa and purchased from merchants involved in the Atlantic Slave Trade.

Florida indigo plantations were normally blessed with long growing seasons that enabled the overseers to direct three cuttings of the weed, compared to only two cuttings for Georgia and South Carolina plantations. Indigo was the East Florida commodity that initially brought James Grant lucrative earnings. It is said that his true fortune was made from the enslaved black men and women he employed at Guana River.

The War of Independence closed the forests of North Carolina and subsequently opened the markets in the British west Indies for products from Florida Forests. The war transformed British East Florida into a producer of naval stores (lumber, tar, pitch, and turpentine) and war provisions by 1780.  Indigo was no longer the source for building fortunes it once was.

This symposium provides an opportunity, on the eve of Flagler College’s Fiftieth Anniversary, to investigate the rich history of St. Augustine and the Southeastern United States through the lens of the Indigo trade and the repercussions of slavery and colonialism.  We are offering an occasion to rethink the historical narrative related to the Atlantic slave trade through shared voices across a multitude of artistic practices and pedagogies. Please join us as we explore our history through the hues of this fascinating and widely revered natural dye.

Back To Top