This article originally appeared in The New York Times on July 7, 2011.
Darwin D. Martin, a soap-factory executive in Buffalo, was a serial client of Frank Lloyd Wright. Between 1903 and 1928, the charismatic architect designed a half-dozen buildings for Martin’s family, including a carriage house and a mausoleum. Wright referred to his shy, bookish patron as “my best friend,” borrowed $70,000 from him over the years and never repaid the loans.
By the 1930s the Martins were largely broke, and they had to abandon their sprawling main house on a leafy side street. About half of its 394 windows, with stained-glass squares and polygons in iridescent golds and greens, were removed; they have been scattered across private collections and museums or are presumed lost.
The property, now a museum called the Martin House Complex, has been undergoing tens of millions of dollars in restoration, including replication of missing windows. A few original panes have turned up: this spring William Clarkson, a retired printing-company executive in Buffalo, and his wife, Nan, gave back a grid-pattern window from the brick carriage house.
The carriage house was razed in 1962, and in 1985 the Clarksons bought the window from an architect who had salvaged it. The couple hung their purchase over a doorway, with thermal glass protecting it from falling trees and Buffalo weather.
“It was sort of hiding in plain sight” at the Clarksons’ house while preservationists kept dropping hints encouraging its restitution, said Eric Jackson-Forsberg, curator of the Martin House.
“Now that we are both octogenarians,” Mr. Clarkson said in a recent phone interview, “rather than waiting for our demise, we decided we should give it to them now, because of the extraordinary progress that has been made at the house.”
Julie L. Sloan, a stained-glass restoration consultant and historian in North Adams, Mass., has appraised the piece at more than $100,000. She knows of virtually no precedent for a Wright window given back to its original home. “Most of them are too valuable, so people want to hold on to them,” she said.
In December Christie’s auctioned two Martin windows in New York, from the estate of the computer tycoon Max Palevsky; one three feet tall sold for $62,500 and one five feet tall went for $104,500.
The carriage house was recreated four years ago, and the Clarkson gift has been installed on the second floor, overlooking the street. “We put it where it’s going to be most prominent,” Mr. Jackson-Forsberg said.
In October vintage and reproduction furniture will go on view in the long-empty main house, and lost skylight panes are being reproduced. The upgrades may bring more old windows out of the woodwork. Mr. Clarkson knows a collector who owns one. “You can be sure,” he said, “next time I see him, I will brag about our donation.”
Last year at a sleepy auction in the Philadelphia area Christopher T. Rebollo took home two glass decanters that the catalog had described as generic. Mr. Rebollo, an antiques dealer in Mechanicsville, Pa., knew that they resembled 1810s vessels made for American presidents.
The ribbed and nubby pieces are engraved with eagles, shields and arrows, based on the United States Great Seal. Scholars have now attributed them to the Pittsburgh glassmaker Benjamin Bakewell. On Wednesday they went on view at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, identified as survivors of a dozen water decanters that Bakewell supplied for White House parties hosted by James Monroe.
“Can you imagine what the tables must have looked like, with all that glittering glass,” said Jason T. Busch, the museum’s curatorial chair of collections.
Mr. Rebollo sold them to the museum in January at the Winter Antiques Show in Manhattan. Mr. Busch had long been looking for great Bakewell products. “Watching and waiting worked to our advantage,” he said. Mr. Rebollo’s asking price was about $165,000 per decanter, and the Carnegie bargained him down to an undisclosed figure. “Chris was very kind to the museum,” Mr. Busch said.
The decanters can carry 1.5 quarts, the standard capacity for water serving pieces in Monroe’s time. “I filled them up very carefully to figure out how much they would hold,” Mr. Rebollo said.
No one quite knows when the government got rid of them, or why their surfaces are still so crisp. “Maybe they survived because people then were much more interested in drinking wine than water,” said Arlene Palmer Schwind, a Bakewell expert who analyzed the pair for Mr. Rebollo.
A Poet’s Desk
E. E. Cummings hated disruptions when he was holed up in his writing studios in Greenwich Village and at his New Hampshire farm. Hardly anyone was allowed in, and he cared little about the rumpled décor.
“The furnishings were minimal and decidedly beat up” at his 1840s house on Patchin Place, the historian Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno wrote in a 2004 biography of Cummings.
One relic of the poet’s reclusive workspaces is now viewed almost daily with schoolchildren. Maryette Charlton, one of Cummings’s friends, inherited his 1830s mahogany desk and has donated it to Poets House in Battery Park City in Lower Manhattan.
Staff members and visitors often recite Cummings poems around the boxy, austere piece, at the end of long rows of bookshelves in the library. Its unpretentious design reinforces a basic lesson about how literary careers start. “You sit at a desk and you write your poem,” Maggie Balistreri, the librarian, said. “It’s very democratic.”
Some veneer chips are missing, and a crack has formed in the mahogany. “It has some condition problems, but nothing too egregious,” Jude Hughes, a furniture conservator, said. He spent a recent afternoon crawling around the desk with a flashlight, along with John Hays, a deputy chairman at Christie’s.
“This is a virgin-growth, unbelievable slab of mahogany,” in a wood variant called plum pudding, Mr. Hays said; dark spots like raisins are scattered across the lid. The furniture maker, the Boston woodworker William Fisk, stenciled his name on the airtight poplar drawers. The poet, or perhaps his father, Edward, a Harvard professor, left a few ink stains in the cubbyholes.
Poets House is having the desk appraised, for insurance purposes. If it were to be auctioned, Mr. Hays estimated it would bring $5,000, unless literature fans started vying for it. Bidders, Mr. Hays said, might be picturing Cummings at work and thinking: “He is my man. He influenced everything I do.”