Making paint with the Luiseño People

Yesterday I had an amazing opportunity to paint with a group of Luiseño children on the La Jolla Reservation north of San Diego. For over a decade, Dr. Norrie Robbins has been running the Science Explorers Club at reservations around San Diego with the express purpose of nourishing a love of the outdoors and  sharing values that protect the earth.

Norrie and I connected by email while I was planning a trip to California and she generously offered to spend a day with me looking and collecting red in the local landscape. During our drive I learned a lot from her about the geological formation of the area and the traditional stories that accompany the deposits of colour. The whole trip was a blast!

When we arrived at La Jolla for that afternoon’s club meeting, we spotted a bright red swath of earth (a gabbro) at the reservation’s entrance and Norrie asked if we could do an impromptu paint making class. So, between the children’s excitement, Norrie’s knowledge of the landscape, and a little bit of direction from myself, we got to work! We harvested red soil, ground it in the naturally occurring granite basins, mixed it with egg to make paint, and then applied it to the rocks with our hands. With each step we creatively improvised, and learned a lot in the doing.

I am very grateful to Norrie and all the children who made this event possible—it was truly magical!


  1. Carolyn Mount on Facebook on January 23rd, 2013 at 11:28 pm

    That is so awesome! I had no idea you were going to California! I look forward to hearing more about the whole trip.

  2. Tricia Sellmer on Facebook on January 24th, 2013 at 4:33 am

    Excellent Christopher.

  3. Thea Iberall on January 25th, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Christopher — you sound like an incredible human being. I’ve been exploring your website and it brings back many memories of being in Ontario in 1987 teaching at the University of Waterloo. You had the good fortune to meet up with my incredible sister Norrie and spend a day with her with the kids. You both are focused on beautiful visions of expanding knowledge and wisdom on our planet. Thank you for all you do. Thea Iberall

  4. Christopher van Donkelaar on Facebook on January 26th, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Hi Carolyn—Thanks! It sounds like you’re having an amazing time at your residency too! I can’t wait to connect with you and trade stories …

  5. Christopher van Donkelaar on January 28th, 2013 at 8:26 am

    Thank you Tricia and Thea for your kind words and encouragement!

  6. Norrie Robbins on April 13th, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    Just reread your blog, Christopher–the holes were not natural, they were ancient grinding holes. Most grinding holes are from generations of women grinding acorns into acorn flour. I also was once on a site where the holes were small and these were pigment grinding holes–you could still see the red stain of the iron pigment.

    • Christopher van Donkelaar on April 14th, 2013 at 6:26 pm

      Thanks for the correction! I had no idea that we were making use of such ancient bowls … What an amazing opportunity. I still remember our, “red” day as something wonderful, Norrie!

  7. Luiseño Red—Symeon van Donkelaar on January 28th, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    […] Even as I write this account I’m still on a high from it! I’m deeply thankful to both Norrie and Julie for their invitation and help during the day. And, if you’d like to read about my last trip to San Diego, you can follow this link: […]

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