The Haint Blue Night Thread (12/9/21)

If you look up while sitting on a covered porch in the American South (and parts of the Northeast), chances are you’ll notice that the ceiling is painted a light blue — known colloquially as “haint blue.” “Haint blue” is a shade that can range from the barest blue tint, to robin’s egg blue, to more of a blue-green or -grey.

It has its origins in the Lowcountry of Georgia and South Carolina, specifically the Gullah Geechee culture. Enslaved Africans and their descendants used the same indigo plant that helped spur the slave trade to create the paint, believed to ward off evil spirits by mimicking the color of water or sky. “Haints” (ghosts, “boo hags,” devils, what have you) were believed to be turned away by water and led astray by open sky, so painting the porch (and other liminal spaces like windows and doorways) blue was a means of tricking them from crossing into the home. Blue glass bottles hung from trees offered the same protection.

The habit spread, aided by the (probably misconceived) notion that a blue porch ceiling also deters spiders, bugs, and nesting birds — and by the fact that it’s simply a pretty color and a charming surprise when glancing up from the porch swing.

You can’t see it in this picture, but my own porch ceiling is a lovely pale shade of blue, as are my neighbors’. All three houses were built at the same time around 1910. 

Now an official Sherwin Williams paint color, “Haint Blue,” when spotted, is often far removed from its African origins, but there is a movement amongst the Gullah Geechee people to bring natural indigo and indigo-dyed crafts back (as use of the plant — if not the color — decreased after the Revolutionary War and nearly disappeared by the mid-19th century, as synthetic blue dyes became widely available). Though modern American artisans who know how to dye with indigo are still relatively rare, the color is omnipresent in Lowcountry art, as in the works of Diane Britton Dunham:

So if you ever find yourself in the Lowcountry region, see how much “haint blue” you can spot on porches, shutters, doors, and more — a legacy that goes far beyond a paint sample.

Have a great Night Thread, Avocados!