The Heart and Mind of the Collector
By Jan David Winitz, President & Founder
Published in AXA Art
We humans have an innate impulse to surround ourselves with things that nourish our emotions, stimulate our imagination, add significance to our rituals, remind us of people or eras from the past, lend order to our worldview, and simply add beauty to our everyday lives.
It’s in our nature to collect things. Up to 400,000 papyrus scrolls from across the known world were assembled in the Great Library of Alexandria when the Ptolemaic Dynasty ruled Egypt. Children at the seashore collect shells without prompting. Like many boys smitten with America’s national pastime, I accumulated shoeboxes overflowing with baseball cards. My mother was so respectful of this childhood passion that she kept those boxes intact, in storage for decades.
Through over 40 years as president of a gallery dealing in art-level antique Oriental carpets, I have observed that my clients often become collectors unintentionally. They may begin with a practical purchase, with one carpet acquired to furnish a specific room in their home. Other times, collections begin emotionally; a particular piece resonates so strongly, so viscerally, that a client feels the need to have it. Finding a place to put it is a secondary consideration.
As president of a company dealing in art-level antique Oriental carpets, I’ve observed that my clients often become collectors unintentionally.
The appeal of antique Oriental rugs, weavings made more than a century ago and more than half a world away, is complex. But put simply, they define the ambiance of one’s environment and offer a type of nourishment that only objects of great beauty can provide. And they can do so in a great variety of ways.
Some collectors bring an intellectual and historical perspective to their connoisseurship, honing an ability to recognize the rarest examples or “best-of-the-best.” Others focus on a particular genre of rug and relish in studying the similarities and differences between various Caucasian or Bakshaish rugs, for example. Others focus on the juxtaposition of “opposites” to” create engaging interior aesthetics—a tribal rug displayed within a streamlined, minimalist, contemporary décor or a finely detailed floral carpet used to anchor impressionist or postmodern sculptures and paintings.
Some fill every corner of their homes with expansive collections. Some put display cases of Oceanic art or Chinese pottery in bathrooms and even kitchens. Anywhere in my home that lacks art,” one client observed, “seems emotionally devoid.” They take a creative approach to their antique rugs, placing them not only on their floors but also hanging them as wall art, draping them over banisters and furniture, even adventurously putting them on tabletops under glass.
Still others take a curatorial approach, keeping carefully cataloged troves of carpets in climate-controlled storage. Individual treasures are removed and displayed, perhaps annually or even seasonally. The immense pleasure of this rotating personal exhibition is not unlike visiting with an old friend who has been absent for a long while. Absence certainly makes the heart grow fonder, and the collector appreciates how the friendship has evolved in the interim.
People who love beautiful objects often morph into collectors without quite recognizing it, as they acquire more items than they can display at one time.
So, while most collections begin either practically or emotionally, they almost always blossom in an array of fashions as boundless as the imaginations of the collectors who assemble them. As one gentleman I’ve worked with for a quarter-century said, “In the world I create in my homes, wherever my eyes rest, I wish to see something that inspires me.”