Textile Museum of Canada co-founder.
“The first war rug that I saw, in person in Toronto in a dealers store, and I was astounded by it, imagine a rug with weapons in it?”
Gift of Max Allen, TMC T02.13.15
The images of weapons on these war rugs from Afghanistan reflect the country’s turbulent history in the late twentieth century and document the dramatic transformation of the ancient tradition of rug weaving at the time of the Soviet invasion (1979–89) and the American invasion that started in 2001. The donation of this significant collection reflects Max Allen’s passion for textiles as documents of social history and political events.
Transcript of Interview with Max Allen
This war rug came to the Museum relatively recently, but it came for the same reasons that we started the Museum—that is, to keep a record of what people in places other than Toronto, places far away, often did and thought and how they managed.
The Museum started in 1975, which was actually the tail end of the ’60s, and one of the things that the ’60s was about was the environment and the end of the world as we knew it and the running out of resources and the population bomb that was going to overwhelm natural resources. Lots of people were thinking the world, as we knew it, was about to disappear, and so we ought to figure out some other way to live.
One of the ways to figure that out was to look at the physical objects that were made by people who did not live like we do. So the collecting of rugs started, I think, because I was interested, not to collect them for myself, but to make a show of them, which has continued for over 40 years now, nearly. Make a show of them to inform people how, for example, you can take something simple, like a vegetable that grows in your backyard, make a dye out of it, and then dye some sheep wool, and you’ve grown the sheep yourself. People in Toronto, of course, don’t do that. And then to weave it, which nobody I knew knew how to do, and lo and behold you get something terrific that looks great and is useful at the same time to keep you warm and to function in all the ways that rugs function.
So that’s how we started, and these were, I thought, cultural documents; that is, that the rugs and the other kinds of textiles associated with them were documents that carried information with them about other ways to live and other things to do and, of course, other ways to think about the world. And that idea has interested me now for decades and is the basis of why I think objects from other places and other times are important, significant, interesting, beautiful.
When the Museum started, there was no such thing as the Internet. There was barely such a thing as a computer then, and so in order to know about textiles, rugs, you had to either read books or go someplace—museums, usually, or dealers—and look at them. Now we’ve got something else going on, and that is a different acquisition system through the Internet, through places like eBay, and a different education system. I can go on the Internet now and see pictures of rugs from everywhere, with an enormous amount of information associated with them. So the Internet has turned out to be a store and a school all together.
The first war rug that I saw I saw in person, in Toronto, at a dealer’s store, and I was astounded by it—imagine a rug with weapons in it? I thought, “Whoever heard of such a thing?” And then I began to poke around and discover that there were all kinds of them in the world, and one of the ways to find them was to go on the Internet to dealers in London and South Africa and New York and Vancouver and all over the place, and those dealers sometimes had war rugs. That’s where most of the rugs that are in the Museum collection came from; that is, I found them. I didn’t go to Afghanistan to find them. I didn’t go to New York to find them. I sat here and found them, and here they are in the Museum.
Interviewer: Natalia Nekrassova, Curator
Others present: Adrienne Costantino, Curatorial Assistant
Date and time of interview: Wednesday, January 29, 2014, 2–4 p.m.
Location of interview: Collector’s home