About The Artist: Neal Armstrong
Primitive Creations is not just another brain tanning and painted robe site, valuable though they are. I am at once both a story AND a source of beautiful brain tanned deer, elk, and painted robes. For me the Story leads and empowers what I do. This is my passion.
The story behind Primitive Creations began many years ago on a small farm in southwestern Ohio, seven miles from the Indiana border. In some respects, my childhood possessed a certain idyllic quality filled with horses, fields and lots of room to explore and dream. My fertile imagination raced every spring as my father’s plow turned over the dormant winter soil and exposed the treasures of native antiquity. I spent hours gathering the flint projectile points left there by the land’s previous stewards and dreamt of what life must have been like when native peoples had roamed, hunted and lived lightly on the property now deeded to the Armstrong clan. I read voraciously and stockpiled books on early American life from the bookmobile that visited our small rural elementary school. These were transcendent moments in my development, losing myself in an earlier, simpler time when folks lived by grit and wit. I had even sewn stereotypical Native American accoutrements to wear when my parents were not around. In relating my story I sometimes say that “I was probably ten or eleven before I realized that I could not grow up and become an Indian.” But time as its tendency, had its way with me. My teenage years quickly displaced my childish imaginings, and like my home-spun native regalia, were discreetly tucked away with little thought given to their possible future relevance.
It’s a funny thing though about dreams and passions. John Adams once said “Facts are stubborn things” and my experience has been so are heart desires. I have learned over the years that ignoring healthy desire is a perilous enterprise. Additionally I have come to believe quite strongly that constructive desire is a gift from the Creator both to guide, and enrich our experience. I have found this to be repeatedly true.
Now fast forward multiple decades. My inner life began its journey home as a result of dramatic and unfolding spiritual renewal. And quietly, without fanfare, old and good desires begin to surface. Like long-lost friends dropping by to reminisce, they uncorked old memories and reminded me of whom I was. They were gentle and kind, but persuasive and persistent. I was puzzled at their arrival and a tad disconcerted, but sensed something very right about their presence and care for me. They offered to lead me in ways long forgotten. My imagination and love of story began resurrection.
Sometime later I found myself standing in the garage of a deer- hunting friend and requesting one of his soon-to-be-discarded hides for my personal experimentation. That experiment would prove disastrous but I pressed on. By the third hide I had mustered the courage to tan a rather large buck hide with eggs and wood smoke. This actually went rather well and I had swallowed the primitive hook completely and without remedy. I began more deer and soon graduated to the use of brains for tanning. I wasn’t quite certain that they made a better product but they carried a certain mystique that the eggs just couldn’t quite muster for me….” but damn. It was a real hawken!” So THIS was brain tan. So beautiful. So ancient. Such history! My deer continued to improve and I began to sell an occasional hide at pow wows. People seemed to really enjoy their soft pliability, smell, and earthy look. And then I took a leap of faith by applying for vendor admission at the Kalamazoo Living History Show. I had loved the scope and quality of this show for some years and thought it the next logical step for this budding enterprise. I was blown away by the response of the educated consumer at this show. They loved our product! My wife and I could not have experienced a better or stronger confirmation that we were on the right track. Since that time we have continued to attend this and other shows where our product sells easily and new and repeat customers are engaged. Re-enactors, artists, artisans, and Native Americans keep me more than occupied. I love talking to customers and I am also absolutely delighted to see my reception by the Native community. They recognize quality quickly and respect the work as well as anyone. This is desire realized!
Over the last years we have increased our profile and have added to our customer base. Additionally we have added painted elk and buffalo robes to our product offering. Painting big soft robes with traditional mineral paints is too fun for words. I sometimes smile and think my lot almost surreal. I get to do what I love. WOW! This is a gift from my Creator and it does not go unnoticed! Maybe I understand the words of Eric Lydell, the great Scottish Olympic sprinter and missionary who when asked why he would devote his life to sprinting for a time, said in response,”When I run I feel God’s pleasure.” I get it Eric!
But I also love the creative element of the tanning process. The smoking of the hide reminds me of my time in the old photographic darkroom many years ago. Smoke uncovers both flaw and character. It is at this stage that the Great Reveal occurs. No two pieces are exactly alike. The smoke has spoken and discovered the personality of the skin and the skill of its creator. This is a blast! My favorite part of the process! To quote that revered philosopher and poet, Forrest Gump, “….ya never know what yer gonna get.” The thrill at seeing this final unveiling is rivaled only by the satisfied expression on the face of a customer; hide tucked under the arm and a big smile on his or her face. What a payoff!
I love my work. I love what I get to do!