Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Primitive By Any Other Name...

Wondering if any of you have seen the great new magazine "A Primitive Place"? If you like Judy Condon's series of primitive decorating books, you'll love the magazine too. We have the first issue -- a great fall issue -- available for our Harvest Open House & Sale in October. It features several homes and some really interesting "how to" articles, a column on collecting and even some recipes. Judging by the first issue, it will be around for awhile. If you can't wait for your copy, drop me a email ( Meanwhile, check out their website:

Writing this post to let everyone know about this new magazine caused me to think about just what we mean when we use the term "primitives." The word seems to have lots of varying definitions.

I heard a local antique dealer -- one of my favorite people but one whose shop carries more general line antiques -- recently quip "there's a fine line between primitive and junk." To him and many others, a "primitive" piece of furniture is one that is dilapidated and either seriously needs to be refinished or is beyond repair.

Several local auctioneers have been known to list "primitives" in their sale bills when they are offering hay hooks and other such rusty farm tools out of a farmers' barn. They can't imagine any of the women at the auction even looking at their version of primitives, much less bidding.

Then again, some of the cute little gift/decor shops around Champaign and Vermilion County who advertise that they sell "primitives" are referring to grungy candles, berry wreaths, wooden crow cut-outs, and painted signs that say things like "Welcome Friends." But that is not just a local use of the term. Catalogs like "The Country House" feature so-called primitives of the same ilk. "Country Sampler" magazine offers that kind of merchandise for sale in the back half of the magazine (while sometimes featuring original "primtive" antiques in the articles up front).

Some folks like to decorate in a grungy style reminiscent of a log cabin, with little or no color, low lighting and with tea-stained textiles; guess what they call that style? Primitive, of course!

So what does "primitive" mean when ForeverMore uses the term? The same thing that shows like Pure & Simple (an annual event in Kokomo, IN) and Gathering on the Prairie (twice a year in Arthur) mean when they use the term -- "unfancy" furniture and accessories from the 1800s or earlier in original surface (preferably old paint or a dry, attic surface) that have simple lines and were "using' pieces as opposed to decorative items. Perfect examples include early dry sinks or pie safes, painted hanging cupboards, wooden dough bowls, hogscraper candlesticks, old handmade baskets, pantry boxes and firkins.

When we mix in early salt-glazed pottery or a red/green applique quilt from early 1800s, we're probably stretching the concept of primitive a bit toward what some would call "early" or "Colonial". And when we display an old scrub bench topped with a row of mismatched sprinkling cans, some see "primitive" and others see "country". (My dealer friend quoted above probably just sees "junk"!) Is an old harvest table with chippy white over blue paint "primitive" or "farmhouse"? Who knows for sure!

So many different images conjured up by the same simple word! In the final analysis, whether you call it primitive" or "early" or "Colonial" or "country" or "frontier" or "farmhouse" or even "junk" doesn't matter. All that matters if if you love and want to live with it!

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