The geometric-patterned window composed of small pieces of shimmering pink, gold and aquamarine glass was installed in a local home’s interior wall, behind an outer storm window.
And there it stood, perhaps for as long as 50 years.
Only recently, upon appraisal, did the present owners of the house find out what it was and where it came from.
It was from the Darwin Martin House, which had been neglected and stripped of many of its precious valuables over several decades. Now the window is going up for auction, and the auctioneer who discovered it hopes it will attract at least $50,000.
“The owners didn’t know it was a Frank Lloyd Wright window until I told them,” said auctioneer Kelly Schultz of Clarence.
“It doesn’t make sense for us to bid at open market on these items,” said Mary Roberts, executive director of the Martin House Restoration Corp. “We can replicate this window for a fraction of what it may sell for on the open market.”
Nonetheless, there is the possibility it could be acquired another way.
“We are always grateful for donations and gifts, and we would welcome the opportunity to partner with any donor who supports our efforts,” said Roberts, who noted there is precedent for gifted donations of other Wright-designed articles being returned to the Martin House.
Schultz said that he discovered the glass panel, which measures 32 by 39¼ inches, during a routine appraisal.
“I was contacted by the owners to sell some of their antiques,” he said.
Schultz declined to identify the owners of the panel. He would only say the house where it was found was built in the 1960s and located within 50 miles of Buffalo.
“I kept on looking and looking at the window,” he said. “The design was very geometric and very much in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. It just jumps out at you. This is my 47th year in the business. After a while you just get a feel for things.”
Schultz, with the help of his associates, researched the piece and determined it to be an original Wright art glass panel.
Roberts confirmed Schultz’s belief Wednesday when she saw it for the first time.
“It appears to be one of the living room skylight panels,” Roberts said. “It’s 100 years old and in need of some conservation. It has some bowing and cracks.
“This is a piece we believed was damaged, lost or missing for many years,” she said.
“This is pretty big news,” said Greg Witul, a stained-glass historian. “Not a lot of windows from the Martin House come up for auction in Western New York. Much of them are auctioned in New York and Texas, where people who have money can spend it.”
Some $46 million has been raised to restore Wright’s Darwin Martin House complex on Jewett Parkway, with the funds about evenly divided between public and private sources. About $4 million remains to be raised to complete the work.
There were approximately 400 original art glass units in the Martin House, according to Roberts.
“We have control/possession of a little more than half of them,” Roberts said. “The ones that are missing are in a variety of private collections and public museums.
“The Martin House has lived a very long life, and some of the units in it were disposed of during the years.”
Museums that list Wright windows in their collections include the Corning Museum of Glass, the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
“We regularly communicate with museums and ask them if they would consider returning one of these windows or give it to us on a long-term loan,” Roberts said.
She pointed to recent examples of items that have been returned to the Martin House by both private individuals and public organizations through donation or at modest cost.
• In 2005, Albright-Knox Art Gallery returned two of the four birdhouses that now stand on the Martin House conservatory roof. And in 2011, the gallery donated two Wright-designed chairs and a table.
• In 2010, the Grey Art Gallery at New York University returned a Tree of Life window.
• In spring 2011, William Clarkson, a retired printing company executive in Buffalo, and his wife, Nan, returned a grid-pattern window from the carriage house that they had acquired and preserved in their home.
Wright-designed windows and panels were produced by the Linden Glass Co. in Chicago, Roberts said.
The windows of the Martin House were among Wright’s classic designs, according to Chuck LaChiusa, historian and creator of the website Buffalo Architecture and History. Many Wright windows feature individual pieces of iridescent glass arranged in geometric patterns inspired by plant forms.
His classic designs featured hundreds of panes soldered with brass, not lead.
The original Wright skylight belongs in its original home, Witul, the local stained-glass expert, believes.
“In a perfect world, it either will be purchased by the Martin House or a benefactor, ” he said.
“If it does leave Western New York, it would be a tragedy. We had the opportunity to keep the piece here and it slipped through our fingers.”