I’ve been collecting rugs specifically, and am most interested in, tribal pieces. I’ve probably been collecting for about 20 years now. Probably like a lot of people getting into collecting rugs, there’s always a bit of an interesting story about how things get you going—whatever the catalyst is.
So, I remember back in my post-university days, a couple of years out of graduation, always visiting my parents up in Northern Ontario and rummaging through the basement. I’m always sort of interested in things that are in boxes and such. Came across three or four rugs, which my mother had brought to my hometown in Northern Ontario from Toronto. And for whatever reason, the tactile qualities and the colours—they just looked old. It was really quite appealing to me.
So I brought these pieces back to Toronto with me—I needed something for my floors in my small apartment—and when I got into Toronto, I sort of looked around a bit, trying to get some advice about what these things were, and I ended up meeting with a fellow by the name of George Yezemian, who was one of the longstanding rug dealers in Toronto. Had a fantastic shop on Queen Street. So I brought in a few of the pieces, and one in particular was a Kazakh; it was an eagle Kazakh, Chelaberd, probably a Russian-workshop-type piece as it turns out. And he immediately, upon seeing it, got quite excited ’cause old, or older, rugs are not that prevalent in Toronto. He pulled out a number of books—I think one of them was actually Ian Bennett’s—and he subsequently showed a couple of pages, and I think from that point going forward, it really got me hooked on the whole idea of perhaps collecting or getting more interested in Oriental rugs.
I got connected to the Textile Museum here in Toronto and subsequently to the Oriental Rug Society, which, at the time, was headed up by a number of longstanding members. From those initial meetings, I was able to get quite a bit more information on just rugs in general and was also introduced to different venues that were going to be, as it turns out, instrumental in my whole collecting—specifically, some of the venues in Toronto, but more importantly, some of the big venues in the States, including ACOR and ICOC.
The thing about Oriental rugs that has really been an attraction for me is the sort of mysterious background pieces being created and utilized by nomadic tribes. There’s a real sort of romantic part of that exploration that, again, captured and built on my interest. So, as far as the collecting of rugs goes, I somehow got quite into the Baluch vein, which for a lot of people is a bit unusual.
Most collectors tend to gravitate, it seems, to more traditional Persian-type carpets. But I think my interest into the Baluch weavings, and especially being very tribal, really kicked off my very first sojourn down to the States to an ACOR, which was in California, in Santa Monica, in the mid-1990s.
Of the pieces that I have in the exhibit, one of the pieces is a Mashwani bag with lots of green. It’s got diamond motifs in it, and that actually was one of the very first pieces that I had purchased at this ACOR. And it just happened to be a situation: I walked into a room; there was so many rugs to look at; the dealer—he was one of the key dealers of tribal pieces in California. And this particular piece was lying on the ground at the time, being studied by—I didn’t know him at that particular moment, but his name was DeWitt Mallary—a well-known scholar of Baluch rugs and remains such today. But he had a very keen interest in this piece and, for whatever reason, decided not to proceed with it. So I immediately, when he left the room, ventured over there and spent a bit more time with it. And it was one of those things you can’t put a finger on, but it just sort of spoke to me that I should have this piece, and I subsequently purchased it. And at the time, it was for a little bit of money compared to what some of the better pieces are going for now. So that particular piece that I have in the exhibit is perhaps not the finest piece, but I think the fact is it was the catalyst for my Baluch collecting and remains to be a very key and important part of my collection.
For people who know me as a collector, most of my pieces are nomadic. I have a real affinity towards bags and small pieces. For some reason they just really strike a very positive chord with me. The fact that they are so easy to handle. The best of bags, especially the different types of wool. Very tactile—lovely things to have in your hand. Flat woven pieces, of which I have a few in the exhibit, are incredible items to view clarity, design, et cetera. These are things that really have always spoken to me. I am very colour oriented, not in the sense of garish, glaring colours but in the sense of high-quality dyes. And not only the quality of the dyes, but in how the colours are utilized in the piece to differentiate designs, to make certain elements stand out, et cetera. So the pieces that I have in the show, for different reasons, all bring forth those features.
Interviewer: Natalia Nekrassova, Curator
Others present: Adrienne Costantino, Curatorial Assistant
Date and time of interview: Wednesday, February 26, 2014, 9:30–10 a.m.
Location of interview: Textile Museum of Canada, 55 Centre Avenue, Toronto, Ontario