When junker Brenda Buckingham looks at an old piece of furniture, she uses what she calls her “after eyes.”
“I see things not as they are, ugly and old, but as how they could be,” Buckingham said.
That concept is what propelled the former graphic designer to start “picking” or “junking” 15 years ago. “It’s like a treasure hunt, with an element of suspense about what you’re going to find,” Buckingham said.
Turning trash into treasure for resale on eBay and at rented garages turned out to be a lucrative enough side business for Brenda and her husband Ron that they started the vintage market Past Blessings. After years of hauling their wares to different shows and venues, they started dreaming of finding a farm with space to host their own shows. The couple went all in on the primitive concept and lifestyle in 2010, buying acreage among the fields of waving wheat in North Spokane’s Orchard Prairie, and renaming what was known as the old Cutler place as Past Blessings Farm.
In the yard surrounding the yellow 1898 farmhouse in which they are residing and renovating, the couple host the Inland Empire region’s largest outdoor antique and artisan market. The show they created, Pickin’ on the Prairie, is now in its sixth year, growing from 21 vendors when it started to more than 80 today, with another 20 that had to be turned away due to space constraints. A $5 admission fee gains visitors access to booths of boho and Western jewelry, signs, Montana West purses, rare books, shabby chic furniture, vintage fabrics, and lots of “junk” to pick through.
In addition to the annual Pickin’ on the Prairie, the Buckinghams host monthly barn sales at Past Blessings Farm of the found and refurbished treasures to which Brenda applies her artistry. In her quest to restore and enhance what others have cast off, Buckingham has spent years perfecting the art of decorative painting, character-building crackling and faux distressing.
In her hands, a trashed, water-stained coffee table, made from particle board and laminate, and marred by chunky ’70s details on the drawers, is transformed into a modern, streamlined bench. In place of the hideous drawer fronts she adds storage bins painted to look like aged, galvanized metal. She stencils “Live, Laugh, Love” inside the industrial-looking cubbies. Buckingham conjures up decades of patina and vintage aging to other pieces by using chalk paints that she creates herself with plaster of Paris. A little sanding here, some crackling paint there, and voilà, a shiny golden oak end table becomes a chippy, farmhouse antique.
Brenda worked in the early ’90s as a graphic designer at a Spokane ad agency formerly known as WhiteRunkleZach. Her penchant for repurposing started when she was a child.
“I was the kid who turned toilet paper rolls into Barbie doll crowns. It’s good when you don’t have a lot of money,” Brenda said. “I was always drawn to the simpler times I watched on ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and ‘The Waltons.’ ”
Ron Buckingham retired in June from his job as administrative supervisor at American Medical Response to join the business full time. He said he took a little longer to catch on to his wife’s vision of buying a farm to create a picker’s paradise.
“The chord that it strikes with people is what surprised me most,” he said. “What I might think is junk actually means something to people. Just seeing something their grandmother had will bring back sweet memories.”
“Repurposing, upcycling, picking … I think it’s cool because people want to hold onto the past a little bit, but there’s also the affordability and the originality,” Brenda Buckingham said. She believes that upcycling old things is also an important protest against the culture of mass production clogging today’s landfills.
Spokane Valley resident Heather Stevenson of Random Acts of Junkness will offer vintage clothing, fabrics and wood furniture for her third year in a row at this weekend’s Picking on the Prairie.
“I just love the venue,” Stevenson said. “The farm and the house … it’s like a country fair.”
The public’s thirst to purchase the past has Past Blessings expanding its reach beyond the farm. After Pickin’ on the Prairie, the couple will organize the following shows in the coming months: Pickin’ Treasure Valley at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa, Idaho, on Oct. 29-30; Pickin’ Christmas at the Greyhound Event Center in Post Falls on Dec. 3-4; Pickin’ Post Falls at the Greyhound Event Center on Feb. 18-19; and Pickin’ Boise at Expo Boise on April 22-23.
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