Recently a reader emailed us with a suggestion we view the website for the University of Calgary and their announcement of having been gifted the Lloyd Erikson rug collection. We did just that and frankly were amazed at the hyperbole and fairy-tale presentation that announcement contains.
Lloyd Erikson was introduced to me about 15 years ago and while finding him a charming and quite friendly chap, his paltry knowledge of antique and historic carpets was clearly as obvious as that affability.
And viewing the pieces chosen for the website presentation proves that lack of knowledge.
Here are some tid-bits from that presentation and some comments from RK.com in italics:
“The Nickle Arts Museum at the University of Calgary is now home to the largest public collection of rugs in Canada after receiving a donation of 600 Oriental rugs.”
Shame Erikson was such a gourmand in his rug buying. Did no one ever tell him less is more? Collections like this - heavy on quantity but light on quality - are sadly the norm for collectors of his ilk. Better to have splurged out on a few masterpieces rather than accumulate such piles of mediocre examples, most of which are just one step past air-port art.
Valued at about $2.5 million, the rugs also come with a cash donation of $1.6 million, making this the largest single gift the university has ever received for the arts.
Let’s see $2,500,00.oo divided by 600 makes $4,166.66 per piece. Looked at in this way it appears Erikson overpaid for most of the pieces and got a few bargains. Viewed in any other manner, it would appear he got royally screwed, at least that’s the way it looks to us.
“This is a very valuable educational collection that beautifully illustrates important developments in the history of rugmaking,” says Dr. Ann Davis, director of The Nickle Arts Museum.
Perhaps Dr. Davis’s statement would be better put had she said Erikson’s collection beautifully illustrates how a rich man wasted a lot of his money buying inferior pieces of mid-late 19th century middle eastern weaving.
“We are especially grateful that Dr. Erikson has included an endowment that will provide for the care of the collection itself.”
Again let us put some, perhaps more veritable, words in Dr. Davis’s mouth and suggest that maybe the endowment Erikson gave was more important than the gift of the collection itself?
The rugs date from the 16th to mid-20th century. Most are from Turkey, Persia (Iran) or the Caucasus regions of East Asia, and they are predominantly tribal in origin, meaning they are usually made by a single artist as opposed to being mass produced.
Ignorance sure is bliss, isn’t it, Dr Davis?
“The collection includes some very, very good rugs – rugs that the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art would really like – as well as many unique tribal rugs that were made and used by nomads,” Davis says.
This is perhaps as laughable and absurd a statement as LACMA’s belief they bought a 16th century “Bellini” masterpiece from dennis dodds. Ha Ha is all RK could comment to Dr. Davis’s ridiculous assertion that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York might ever “really like” any of Erikson’s amateur-status purchases.
“We expect that the collection will become an important resource for research, not only in areas such as textiles and fine arts, but also in areas such as social history and anthropology of East Asia, Islamic studies, and women’s studies.”
That might be the case, Dr. Davis, for Calgary’s kindergarten classes. Be sure to invite them asap.
The collection is named after Erikson’s wife, Jean, who died in 1986, and his mother, Marie, whose fortune financed most of the collection.
Hopefully she loved her son more than her fortune is all RK could possibly say to this bit of unnecessary information.
Erikson purchased his first rug in 1949 in Lebanon (see biographical backgrounder), but it wasn’t until 1988 that he began collecting in a serious way.
From the fruits of his collecting it appears he shouldn’t have bothered.
He was assisted by Dr. Brian Chatterton, a U of A geologist and fellow rug collector, who kept a keen eye out for interesting pieces as he travelled the world in connection with his scientific pursuits.
Again RK hopes Dr Chatterton was better at his scientific pursuits than he was at turning his “keen eye” on Oriental rugs.
The most valuable rug in the collection – known as a Lesser Holbein and dating from the 16th century – is believed to be one of only three in the world.
From the looks of things it is the only one, as the term “Lesser Holbein” is non-existent and appears no where other than on Calgary’s website.
When Erikson bought it in 2000 he paid roughly $60,000 but its value now may have increased considerably.
Since it is not shown on the website we doubt we going to make the trek to Calgary to see it based on the other pieces Chatterton and Erikson blew his mater’s cash on.
It is a meticulously detailed rug that derives its name from the German Renaissance artist Hans Holbein the Elder, who depicted a rug like it in one of his paintings.
“One of the very unique features of the collection is that Dr. Erikson collected by pattern,” Davis says. “He is interested in tracing the evolution of patterns, how they change and migrate.”
This sounds more like an excuse for his boo-boos rather than an explanation of his collecting modus operandi. And, Dr. Davis, there is nothing unique about blowing wads of cash on mediocre 19th and 20th century rugs. But what is unique is getting a museum, any museum, to hype to the ceiling such a pedestrian pile of rugs as Erikson managed to acquire.
The original idea for bringing his collection to The Nickle Arts Museum began 10 years ago when the Nickle organized an exhibition of rugs. Prof. Jed Irwin, then a U of C professor of fine arts and now an emeritus professor, knew of Erikson’s collection and borrowed some pieces. After the show, Erikson raised the idea of donating his collection to the museum, but was reluctantly turned down because of the high costs of maintaining it.
We’ll forgo the opportunity to comment on that one, Dr. Davis.
“They’re all so different – that’s why I find rugs so interesting,” Erikson says. “You collect in great numbers because you come across something and say, ‘I don’t have an example in this one so I have to have this.’ And then you see another one and you say, ‘I don’t have an example of this one so I have to have this one too’. It’s like granddad and his stamp collection – he never tires because there’s another kind of stamp that he hasn’t got.”
RK hopes granddad was more astute in his collecting habits. Maybe Erikson should have stuck to stamp collecting?(no pun intended)
RK is sorry to be so brutal with the truth but when museums disregard reality and try to kite ludicrous assertions, what can we say other than they deserve it.
Here is one of Erikson’s “gems”, a terribly mediocre, late, mis-provenanced example of a Star Kazak:
No, Dr. Davis, it is definitely not remotely posssible it is the finest in existence and neither are the vast majority of Erikson’s worthy of anything other than floor use in the entry way of your institution.