Reviews / Comptes rendus - Peddle, Walter W. The Traditional Furniture of Outport Newfoundland

Reviews / Comptes rendus

Peddle, Walter W. The Traditional Furniture of Outport Newfoundland

Shane O'Dea
Memorial University
Peddle, Walter W. The Traditional Furniture of Outport Newfoundland. (St. John's, Nfld.: H. Cuff Publications, 1983.) 200 pp., ill. Paper $14.50, ISBN 0-919095-37-2.

1 Readers of the Bulletin are probably quite familiar with Walter Peddle's writings on Newfoundland furniture. They will be pleased to know that these have finally (after long and trying years in the hands of faithless publishers and public agencies) found their full growth in a book. However, the readers may be a little surprised by the format. The Traditional Furniture of Outport Newfoundland comes not as a coffee-table book, nor as a compact version of same, but as an octavo paperback. This format, while it may not do justice to the author's work, well serves his purpose of reaching the general public of Newfoundland. Because the book is comparatively reasonable in price, it may be bought by readers other than the wealthy academics and lawyers who own the pieces the book illustrates.

2 The book follows a fairly standard pattern for most regional furniture studies in that it has an introduction (as well as a preface and a foreword) to set the framework of the material and then examines the furniture category by category. Peddle does not merely identify piece, provenance, and maker. His captions take into account the use of the item, the sources of its material, and sometimes its design. In some cases he is able to relate the piece illustrated to other pieces in that idiom or from that particular region of Newfoundland. This is possible because this book grew out of Peddle's contact with Newfoundland furniture through an antique business he ran from 1973 to 1982. (He is now education officer and associate curator of material history with the Newfoundland Museum). He knows virtually all the pieces he illustrates because they were pieces he acquired. He brings an intimate knowledge of the furniture to the book, a knowledge that would be unusual in any other regional context.

3 The other side of this virtue is not so pleasant: the pieces he illustrates are almost all that remains of Newfoundland furniture. This is not to suggest that there was little furniture made or that Newfoundlanders were ill-furnished. Rather it suggests that much has been taken out and that much has been thrown away. As Peddle makes clear in his preface, there has been a steady stream of pickers in the last decade — a decade which coincided with an interest in traditional furniture. Prior to that the pickers were few and were selective about what they took and, generally speaking, their markets had not gone into "pine and plants" as a mode of decoration. Of greater effect has been the local discarding of outmoded furniture — furniture not only outmoded but distinctly unfashionable.

4 The production of the book, while it allows for general distribution, does pose some problems in layout. Many captions are on the page beside the illustrations they relate to and, were it not for some tiny directional arrows buried in the binding, it would be difficult to determine which illustration went with which caption. This is a defect the publisher could have corrected by reducing the size of illustration or by a limited change in layout. A number of photographs are marked with scratches or similar blemishes, and the cover photograph has been printed fuzzily.

5 What this book lacks, and indeed what most regional Canadian furniture studies lack, is an overall sense of the place of this furniture in the context of the people who made it and for whom it was made. Too often the antiquarians of furniture history have been too satisfied with style developments, as set down in the principal style books (Chippendale, Hepplewhite, Sheraton) and repeated in the coffee-table books, to investigate the much broader range of forms and situations which influence the making of any single piece. This is not to be seen as a condemnation of Peddle's book for it must be recognized that all work must begin with description—discussion and discrimination are the processes that follow. In fact Peddle does discuss some of these factors and is aware of both situations and the contemporary craft as both this book and his more recent writings on Winter, Parsons, and Cody (in Canadian Collector) have made clear. This sort of specific work — detailed documentary research, oral history recording, careful artifact examination — must be developed in Newfoundland. And to it must be linked selective research in related sub-disciplines (architectural history, costume, technology) and related areas (on the north Atlantic rim) to produce a coherent picture of the Newfoundland craftsperson and his/her products.

Shane O'Dea