Something I did not realise is that sulfur is essential for all life, being one of the core chemical elements needed for biochemical functioning and is an elemental macronutrient for all organisms. Not only that, sulfur is virtually indespensible in most indutrial process known to man.
In short, we just can't do without it.
Now, before you think - 'she can't spell!' I did think about how I was going to spell the word sulfur. My first reaction was to go with the 'ph' version - sulphur. I incorrectly thought that was the British way to spell it, but just to be on the safe side, I checked. It turns out that although in the past it was the British way, now it isn't. If you are interested in such things, you can find out more about the whole sulfur v sulphur thing here.
But why sulfur? The reason for my current interest is that I wanted to continue developing the ideas I began with the gold and mercury quilts, 'Chrysopoeia' and 'Dragon's Blood'. This series is beginning to take shape and is growing in an interesting and slightly different direction than I had first anticipated.
These are the first few pages from my sketchbook, focussing on the ancient alchemists view of sulfur. Known since ancient times, sulfur is the 7th most common element on Earth and is often found in its natural elemental form (native sulfur) rather than combined in other compounds. As most of the Earth's sulfur is located deep withing the Earth's core, it is usually found on the surface at volcanic and geothermal sites.
As you probably know, pure elemental sulfur is a solid yellow substance with some interesting physical properties. When heated it melts to a dark red molten mass but when ignited it burns with a bright blue flame, giving rise to it's ancient name, Brimstone - a stone that burns.
So this quilt will be mostly yellow, with a few splashes of dark red and blue - time to dye some fabric!!
To the alchemists, sulfur was amongst one of the most important substances on earth. After gold, (their ultimate favourite), three further elements were held in high esteem; namely Mercury, Sulfur and Salt. All three together were known as the 'Tria Prima' (Three Primes) and were thought to be the foundation of all matter, and depending on the proportion of each, different materials were formed, with gold being the perfect balance of each.
As you can see, the alchemists have provided plenty of inspiring material to work on.
Moving on from the alchemists view I also looked into the modern social history how sulfur has been extracted from the Earth and once again I discovered a dark story. This time it came from the use of children as young as 5 or 6 years old, who worked in effective slavery on the island of Sicily.
Sulfur was being extracted in Sicily as early as 900 BC but it was the Industrial Revolution which marked a huge rise in the requirement for sulfur. Used for the production of things such as sulfuric acid and gunpowder, the large deposits in Sicily were the dominant global source and by 1800 Britain had a virtual monopoly on the western world's sulfur supply, mostly through the exclusive contracts set up with the Sicilian mines.
Sadly, the failure of Sicily's governors to capitilize on their mineral wealth, along with their highly impoverished economy meant people, as well as the minerals themselves, were exploited for the gain of a few. Orphans and children from desperately poor families were effectively sold to mine workers to carry sulfur ore from deep underground up to the surface. They were treated dreadfully and known as 'Carusi', the Sicilian word for 'boys'.
Along with the symbols used by the alchemists it is the story of the Carusi I have chosen to tell with this quilt.
Next I'm off to dye the fabric.
Thanks for reading.