Transhumance. Mass noun. The action or practice of moving livestock from one grazing ground to another in a seasonal cycle, typically to lowlands in winter and highlands in summer. Origin: Early 20th century: from French, from the verb transhumer, based on Latin trans- ‘across’ + humus ‘ground.’ Oxford dictionaries.
Transhumance – not a word I have come across until this trip. But I can safely say that the next time I see a cow, I’ll remember this word. In Gstaad, the cows, excuse me, the Simmental cattle, are beautiful… and they can get up close and personal — I think they’ve been programmed to pose (and say cheese) whenever a camera or phone is in play.
The farmers and landowners and persons who own cows, take them up the mountains in the warm parts of the year, and bring them back down at the end of September, to shelter in the barns during the winter. This is part of traditional Swiss culture, and even though it is not, as the Gstaad site says, specifically touted as a tourist thing, locals and tourists are charmed by the cows dressed to the nines, walking the roads, jingling, or clanging, as they go. “When the cows leave the high Alpine pastures in the autumn amidst the loud clanging of bells, this is an age-old tradition and not a tourist event.” Fellow artist Timo Rutkönen, took this photo from his car earlier this week, while he waited in traffic for the cow parade to move by.
Being surrounded by bovine culture, inspired me to make milk paint. Don’t laugh. Milk paint has been around for centuries; pigment and soured milk applied to wood and stone furniture and furnishings. The site http://milkpaint.com states that ‘Cave drawings and paintings made 8,000 years ago, even as old as 20,000 years ago, were made with a simple composition of milk, lime (non-citron variety) and earth pigments.’
This blog https://blog.lostartpress.com/2016/02/17/milk-paint-a-short-history/ also speaks to the importance of milk paint, and about French chemist Antoine-Alexis Cadet de Vaux, whose recipe of ‘skimmed milk, fresh slaked lime, oil of caraway, linseed or nut oil and Spanish white’ was published at a time of public misfortune (the Revolution) and a time of shortages.
Cadet de Vaux describes the advantages of milk paint as ‘cheaper, the recipe was not heated, it dried fast, did not smell of size or oil and when rubbed with a coarse cloth the paint did not come off.’ He used skimmed milk, which ‘has lost its butyraceous part, but retains its cheesy part.’ Cheesy gives the mixture elasticity, apparently. I confess I googled butyraceous: of or like butter. All good as far as I can see.
Fortunately, there was a half-bottle of local whole milk in the fridge that had gone past its best date. The sludge looked and smelled like yogurt. I added a half teaspoon of apple cider vinegar and left it in the dappled sunlight of my studio for a few hours. Should have been overnight, but I was impatient to try this paint.
Milk paint has 2 variations: pigments or acrylic paint. I used what was on hand, acrylic paint. No extra water added, just paint and milk. I also applied it to Slovenian handmade paper given to me in 2015, and also to hardboard strips donated by the local lumberyard, just down the road.
There was no smell. The paint had a gloss feel while I was applying it. It dried quickly, and with a matte surface. I think I like this paint. What a great use at home for old milk. And, yes I used whole milk… Cadet de Vaux’s butyraceous be damned.
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- USD $50 support: (acid free mixed media paper, 6×8 inches.) Still available #27
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