Primitive Intoxication

I tumbled from the dimness indoors out into the sunlight, reeling on 4″ wedge heels. My head felt light and like it was spinning. I was intoxicated! Do you ever get a high from seeing beautiful and inspiring things?

I stopped by a place that I’d heard about for years – Primitive in Chicago. They have antiques from cultures around the world but primarily from Asia and Africa, and they collect old and new pieces that were originally used by the people intended to use them. They aren’t things made to sell to tourists, and they’re maybe not even for enthusiasts like me. These are things for people serious about collecting and willing to invest. I would think of it as, people purchasing these things are not “getting” or “having.” They are becoming the caretakers of objects that have already survived for many generations – taking care until another generation takes over the responsibility. Yes, these are objects that bring some responsibility.

I unfortunately don’t have the, uh, assets necessary to become a caretaker right now. Despite that, I felt at home there. I just moved about very carefully. I think no matter what resources we have available to us, it’s important to see the very best. This gives you a bar to measure with, when you seek pieces in your price range, you can look for the best that you can afford. In these places, you also see things combined unexpectedly and dramatically. Wandering around there was  an experience. An event! There was one room, which you’ll see, where I could feel my body and mind affected – just like when we visited temples in Thailand and Laos – and that’s when the intoxication began.

So enough with the words. Here are a few items I saw, and why I wanted to remember them with a photograph …


White Marble Krishna at Primitive

To say I “saw” this white marble statue isn’t quite right. More like I was entirely captivated with it, like Krishna was real and playing the flute only for me. (And you know, Krishna was a flirt with the ladies!) The carving is so sinuous and there was some extra unseen element, like he is really alive under the surface. It doesn’t carry through the photo here, but standing before him, you expect that if you touched him, you’d find the marble veins in his body are warm. And you expect his fingers will start tapping that invisible flute.

I’m not a crazy person. I’ve seen a lot of Krishna statues. There’s something about this one. Primitive’s website has more detailed photos.

This set of cabinets:

Chinese 19th C Gonsu Province Cabinet at Primitive

Cropped close so you can see as much detail as possible in 500 pixel width! And there were two sets of these cabinets, can you believe? They are from the 19th century, Gansu Province, China. They’re over 6.5 feet wide and over 8.5 feet tall, quite a presence. I found them on Primitive’s website where you can see a lot of close-up photos of the details on them. Take a look: Cabinet 1 and Cabinet 2.

Shiva lingam stones:

Lingam Stones at Primitive

The repetition here made a mesmerizing display. It was a dark room full of gold-painted niches. I lightened the photo a bit so you can see the intricate carving on the wood. It was quite an experience to be in a room surrounded on all four sides with this effect. The Shiva lingam stone occurs naturally in this shape in only one river in India, and it’s sacred to Hindus. Some people write of these stones emitting a vibration and an energy. I hadn’t yet heard of that when I was at Primitive. But you know, I felt like they were undulating when I was in the room! But they were not moving at all. People might be drawn to these, as I was, and not understand why.

How the light touched this bell:

Bell in Buddha Room at Primitive

The light perfectly highlighted the detail on the bell. It made me think we should use light in our home more artfully.

The Buddha Room:

Entrance to the Buddha Room at Primitive

I sensed I would be rudely interrupting sacred space if I photographed too far inside the room. I felt a trance take over in there. Now, I don’t meditate and didn’t think I was a particularly spiritual person. But something happens when I’ve been in Buddhist temples. I can’t put words to it. This room had the same effect. I’m a person who, wherever I am, am always thinking of where else I could be. But in these temples, there is nowhere else to be.

As it was in the Buddha Room.

The door leading into the Buddha Room, shown in the photo above, is very low. I am 5′ tall and was 5’4″ in tall wedges that day, and had to bow my head walking into the room. You enter with reverence. Our antique South Indian main door to the India pied-à-terre in Chennai is the same – you bow your head a bit to step into the apartment. And I hope someday the India pied-à-terre is also an experience and an event to visit.

I liked the idea of these bells strung above the entrance to the Buddha Room:

Bronze Bells Above Buddha Room Entrance at Primitive

Mix of cultures:

Display on Chinese Sideboard at Primitive

I most liked the brave blend of objects from various cultures together. Chinese furniture, especially, mixes really well with styles from other cultures and countries, as shown above.

What this is, I don’t know, but I couldn’t stop staring at it:

Metal Art at Primitive

It’s made with rusty nails and metal shards. It feels like a warning of some sort. What draws us doesn’t have to be the usual idea of beautiful. It can attract our minds and make us wonder. Who? Why?

I felt at home there, because so many things were familiar that we have in our home:  Chinese cabinets and chairs, Tibetan prayer wheels, Japanese maru obi, Burmese rain drums, red lacquerware boxes, bronze temple bells, jade and bronze Buddhas. Of course they have the best of the best examples of these pieces. Primitive inspired me to think about how to make the things I already own more theatrical, more uncommon, more like an event to live with them. I haven’t treated them that way, or seen them that way. But then began the intoxicating swirl of ideas … and now I can see …

NOTE ABOUT COMPANY NAME: I’ve seen on Yelp and elsewhere some people are offended by the company’s name. That it’s degrading to refer to these cultures and their creations as primitive. The company’s name was adopted long ago and perhaps they had a different merchandise focus then. Maybe it’s too difficult and expensive to rebrand. I don’t know. My reference to primitive is that sometimes things can affect our bodies and minds on a primal, primitive level.

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