Toronto rug collectors.
“With our great young hubris, we thought that it was just a ‘German thing’ and that they didn’t really understand as much as we did…”
From the collection of Marshall and Marilyn R. Wolf, Toronto, Ontario
Marshall and Marilyn Wolf explain why they acquired this rare and beautiful fragment of a seventeenth-century Safavid rug: “We collect rugs and also rug fragments; they can be very beautiful and tell their own story when a complete piece is unavailable… Of the earliest examples, a complete carpet almost never comes to the market or its price is prohibitive. By studying a fragment, it is possible to determine what the entire carpet probably looked like. So our criteria are, first, the fragment must be beautiful on its own, and also tell the story of rug.”
Transcript of Interview with Marshall and Marilyn Wolf
Marshall: My name is Marshall Wolf.
Marilyn: And I’m Marilyn Wolf.
Marshall: We collect rugs, but we also collect parts of rugs. These are called “fragments.”
Marilyn: Yes, fragments can be very beautiful and tell their own story when a complete piece is unavailable.
Marshall: On the earliest examples, a complete carpet never comes to market or it is price prohibitive.
Marilyn: And fragments, being smaller, can be more convenient to display on the wall in a modern apartment, where space is always constrained.
Marshall: When studying a fragment, it’s possible to determine what an entire carpet probably looked like.
Marilyn: So our criteria is, first, it must be beautiful on its own and also tell the story of the rug.
Marshall: It takes some sophistication and familiarity with various kinds of carpets, so buying carpet fragments is not for everyone. Institutions, such as museums, do accept them as gifts but usually won’t spend acquisition budget to buy a fragment in the market.
Marilyn: So the market in them is limited. But the carpet knowers, the experts, are all over them when an exceptional piece comes to market.
Marshall: Any serious buyer must know what a complete rug of the type looks like, or should look like, and a schematic drawing can be created, which depicts a likely complete piece if the surviving fragment itself is descriptive enough.
Marilyn: So it takes a degree of experience and thorough study to determine what to buy and what not to buy.
Marshall: We display fragments as one would show any work of art: on the wall, seldom on the floor. Sometimes we mount them, which inputs a certain nobility to what is a fraction of a carpet or a textile.
Marilyn: Usually, they are dirty when acquired, so we have them professionally washed, and if there are holes or discolourations that spoil the graphic, we have some modest repairs made so as to better enjoy the beauty of the piece. Fragments also make technical analysis easy, and that tells a story of its own. It’s important to know this too.
Marshall: For the small purse, fragments are a way to own better pieces at a fraction of the price of what a comparable complete rug would cost.
Marilyn: It is a way to own and enjoy wonderful things at a more affordable price, but the pleasure comes in the studying and the learning.
Marshall: Now the fragment in this exhibition, which we have lent, is a 17th-century Safavid carpet. It shows the field and the boarder, so it gives you an idea of what the whole rug would look like.
Marilyn: Right, and so when you look at it, you can see trees and animals and all kinds of fanciful things that make you understand what the carpet is about. So you’re missing the whole carpet—that’s right—but you’re really not missing the essence of the piece.
Marshall: We first saw this at an exhibition in Sheffield, England, of vase carpets, which was a groundbreaking exhibition at the time at the museum. And we saw this piece, and we fell in love with it.
Marilyn: That was in 1976, which was really a very long time ago.
Marshall: We were young collectors and inexperienced.
Marilyn: And we knew that we never would be able to own this piece because it was in the private collection of a very important German dealer, whose name was Bernheimer. But times changed and time passed, and in 1996, which was 20 years later, Konrad Bernheimer decided to dissolve the business and sell everything.
Marshall: We couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t feel that the fragment we wanted was the most desirable because it was, as far as we were concerned, the prettiest.
Marilyn: So with our great, young hubris, we thought that it was just a German thing, and that they didn’t really understand as much as we did.
Marshall: In the meantime, we took our piece home, and we mounted it. And it is how you see it now. And we’ve enjoyed it for many years.
Interviewer: Adrienne Costantino, Curatorial Assistant
Others present: Natalia Nekrassova, Curator
Date and time of Interview: Wednesday, February 5, 2014, 3:15–4 p.m.
Location of interview: Textile Museum of Canada, 55 Centre Avenue, Toronto, Ontario