Ed and Joan Safarian

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Toronto rug collector and member of the Friends of Oriental Rugs.

“What what attracts us, apart from the beauty, is the mystery.”

(3:58)

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Prayer rug; Azerbaijan, Kazagh, 19th century; Wool

From the collection of Ed and Joan Safarian, Toronto, Ontario

The diamonds, hexagons and squares on this rug are symmetrically placed on a plain red ground, creating a simple but powerful composition associated with the rugs from Borchalo, a village in today’s Georgia, populated by the Azeri. Its colour scheme consists of three basic colours: red, blue and white with light brown outlining. The red and blue are natural dyes that were still used in the far corners of the Caucasus even after chemical dyes had found their way to cities and towns in the late nineteenth century. The image vocabulary and coloration of Borchalo rugs bear a closer resemblance to Central Asian rugs than any other type from the Caucasus.

Transcript of Interview with Ed and Joan Safarian

I come from a rug family, but I paid no attention to rugs at all. My wife and I happened to drop into an Oriental rug auction about 25 years ago. We were just amazed at the beauty around us and the stories the rugs seemed to tell, their composition and so on, and the variety. So we started to collect.

First, the Caucasian: they are a little easier to understand, and they have a certain quality, almost abstract at times, geometric, which attracted us. But then we got into Turkish rugs, Turkmen rugs, and some Persian, particularly the Senne and Qashqai. There is no question in my mind that Persian is the best rug of all. The quality is so incredible—the patterns they use, the profusion of flowers and gardens, and so on don’t attract us as much. We do like the rugs from Khotan and some other areas of the world.

What attracts us, apart from the beauty, is the mystery. Unlike paintings, there usually isn’t a signature and there is a tactility to them, which is one of things that is very pleasing. You can handle them. It helps you identify—this is the other part of the mystery—who made the rug. Which group of peoples in which locality made the rug? And also to try to figure out the age, if you are interested in that. So there’s a great deal of technical knowledge that you pick up about the peoples who made the rugs and why they made them with a certain weave rather than another, why they did the ends this way or that, and so on.

The other thing about it is the fraternity and sisterhood of rug collectors as you go to auctions, conferences, private galleries, the Textile Museum, and elsewhere; you meet people. And sometimes you get to know them very well because it’s a repeated sort of thing. You exchange views, and they give you new leads of where to look for rugs and so on. So, wonderful friendships develop and you learn a lot. So it’s the beauty and the mystery and the comradeship that keep us hooked.

I had rugs everywhere in the household, and my father, while he did various things after he came to Canada, basically made a living for us by repairing rugs. He was an expert repairman, but he was also in the selling business. Incidentally, in the Armenian tradition, the men as well as the women weave rugs. So he could weave rugs, and that’s why he knew a lot about it when he started repairing.

Now, he had started a small business in the 1920s, which he lost when the Great Depression came, and it had such a huge effect on me as a little boy. When I went to graduate school, I wrote my thesis on the Great Depression in the Canadian economy; the incident was still with me. And it was impossible to find a job. He didn’t have great, specialized professional skills or anything like that, and everyone was looking for work. But he did have that special capacity to repair rugs, so he bought 10 boxes of very good chocolates, and he went around to the insurance companies, mostly in London, Ontario, but a couple here in Toronto. And he sought out the secretary for each vice-president, and he gave her a box and asked if she would arrange an appointment with her boss. And they all did.

The proposal he made was when a damaged rug came in with a cigarette burn or a tear, my father would repair it so that the individual could not tell, from the front, that it had been repaired. Of course, if you turn it on the back, you sometimes can. And for this they gave him trial runs, and it worked so well that they hired him. And this is how we got through the Great Depression: my father’s skill with rug repair.

Interviewer: Adrienne Costantino, Curatorial Assistant

Other people present: Natalia Nekrassova, Curator

Date and time of interview: Wednesday, February 12, 2014, 10–10:45 a.m.

Location of interview: Textile Museum of Canada, 55 Centre Avenue, Toronto, Ontario