My name is Ross Winter, and I’ve been a long-term member of the various Oriental rug societies in Toronto. I guess my interest developed when I was travelling in Morocco after I finished school. Somehow, I always associated Morocco with rugs, and I looked around and ended up buying my first piece there, which was a flat woven example. Certainly, it was nothing to get excited about, and I disposed of it a long time ago, but it was something that could be afforded on a student budget and something that could be packed into a backpack for travelling.
When I got to grad school afterwards at Berkley, I started looking at Oriental rug books at the library of the College of Environmental Design, and subsequently, I moved to Toronto where I found a job. I started attending auctions on weekend afternoons and got hooked! I found my hand going up at one point in time, and that’s how I acquired my first rug, which was an Iranian Yomud.
I grew up in a house with broadloom, so I thought patterned Oriental rugs were quite fascinating. And I think the other aspect, which appealed to me, was a result of my training in architecture. I mean, it had to do with design, colour, texture, and so forth. And I found that they fit very attractively into simple, modernist interiors. I started, as I said, by attending auctions, and eventually, when I paid off my student loans, I found my hand going up and became the owner of my first rug.
I discovered in the newspaper an ad for weekend events sponsored by the Rug Society and attended a series of lectures, which they put on at the Royal Ontario Museum. And it seemed like an interesting group of people. You had to have three rugs to become a member, and I didn’t at that time, but somebody took pity on me and accepted me anyways. I was once the president of the first Oriental Rug Society in Toronto; we are, in fact, on to our third.
As far as the Toronto rug scene is concerned, there was one old-time dealer by the name of Harry Cohn. He was a refugee from Gdańsk who had come to Toronto and became, basically, a used-furniture merchant on College Street West. There was quite a community around him. On Saturdays, around lunchtime, a group of people would converge, and one person, who was a caterer, always brought lunch and collected little contributions to cover the cost.
And Harry had a “bureau of bureaus,” as they would say in the movies. The place was filled with chests and drawers. And each drawer had something stuffed into it. Nobody would dare look into the drawers— that was his prerogative—but he knew where everything was, and he had pieces allocated to certain collectors. So he would open the drawer and show you the piece that had been designated for you. If you took it, great; if you didn’t, it would be, in his mind, allocated to somebody else. There were things on tabletops—on top of the bureaus and dressers—but basically everything was in the drawers, and he allocated them one by one. He was a nice guy, a lot of fun to be with. There was a generational gap, but nevertheless it was hugely entertaining.
Interviewer: Natalia Nekrassova, Curator
Other people present: Adrienne Costantino, Curatorial Assistant
Date and time of interview: Wednesday, February 26, 2014, 10:30–11 a.m.
Location of interview: Textile Museum of Canada, 55 Centre Avenue, Toronto, Ontario