Synthetic ultramarine was one of the single-most sought after colors; natural ultramarine was extremely costly and had for centuries been a blue reserved for the richest of nobility and church. Natural ultramarine is made from lapis lazuli, the best of which is still found in Afghanistan. The process of extracting ultramarine is complex, laborious, costly and time-consuming, resulting in a small return on so much work and expense. Thus, ultramarine was, during the Renaissance, worth more than its weight in gold and simply too expensive for the average artist. Those who were fortunate enough to get to work with it had rich patrons who bought the pigment and doled it out as they thought necessary. Of those artists who were allowed the use of ultramarine, the color itself was almost entirely relegated to the garments of Mary and Christ in religious paintings.
In 1824 a pound of lapis lazuli was going for anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 francs so a prize of 6,000 (a small reward for a very lucrative invention) francs was offered for the first person who could invent an inexpensive “ultramarine”. The race was on but it was not to be won until 1828 when Jean Baptiste Guimet successfully produced more cost-effective synthetic ultramarine at 300 to 400 francs per pound.
By 1830 synthetic ultramarine was being produced and was available to artists. However, here on the NW Coast synthetic ultramarine pigment was not available. What did arrive on the shores of the NW Coast was laundry bluing. Bluing was used to whiten dingy white clothes and has been used as far back as the ancient Egyptians. The form that Natives quickly adapted into their palettes is a small cake or powder made from synthetic ultramarine. This pigment produces a brilliant blue similar to cobalt and was highly favored by the Bella Bella and Kwakwaka'wakw but used all over the NW Coast.
Up until the early 1900's bluing often did not replace vivianite, particularly on special shamanic objects. There is evidence that bluing lacked the spiritual potency and protection vivianite provided on these types of objects.
*A process for pre-mixing paint was not invented until 1861; prior to this you bought straight pigment then mixed at home. The argument for large objects having been painted is, I believe, not sensible since it would have been difficult to obtain large enough amounts of pigment as well as binding agents prior to pre-mixed paint. It is my theory that totem poles and other monumental pieces only had black and red paint in key areas such as eyebrows, eye lines, lips and other elements which helped focus the eye of the viewer.