Share this article

print logo

Where have the windows gone? A Lincoln Parkway couple hopes to reclaim the unique glass that once graced their home

A Buffalo couple is on the hunt for Diana the goddess.

And they wouldn't mind finding Bacchus, to boot.

Seen either of these characters about, anyone? Maybe tucked away in a dusty attic or an out-of-the-way antique shop?

Diana and Bacchus are depicted, in leadwork and glass, on large window panels which once graced the carriage house on the historic Lincoln Parkway property now owned by the prominent Buffalo couple Clement and Karen Arrison.

At least -- they were.

It seems the decorative "lead-silhouette" glass windows were removed decades ago by the Catholic Diocese, after church officials bought the 1920s-era mansion and grounds in 1949 for use as a chancery, or office for the bishop.

Diana and Bacchus -- nude, most likely, and engaged in scenes of Bacchanalia -- were just a little too risque for the Catholic Church to have about.

Now, the Arrisons are trying to recover the missing window panels with their larger-than-life mythological figures.

Or, if they can't do that, they are trying to find any evidence -- old photos, drawings, even descriptions -- that will enable them to re-create the window panels from scratch, as part of their mission to restore and preserve one of Buffalo's most luxurious old private homes.

"It's difficult. We just don't know (where they are)," said Karen Arrison, of the window panels. "And the very largest window -- Diana -- is the biggest mystery. That's tough for us."

At the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, spokesman Kevin Keenan said there is no official record, or even institutional memory, of whatever happened to the windows after the church bought the property. "There are no pictures of the carriage house at all," said Keenan, who checked through the archives.

The only record available, he said, is contained in a slim booklet written by an amateur historian for Bishop Edward Head in 1973. In that booklet, Walter J. Thompson wrote, not of the carriage house in particular but of the house and grounds more generally:

"Changes were in the offing. When the Diocese became the owner, the problem caused by the overabundance of ... (pagan and mythological) ornaments presented aesthetic and other considerations. The presence of these disturbing and pagan flora and fauna was not conducive to proper meditation during the evening episcopal walk or to the reading of the Holy Office."

The writer concludes: "There were no famous pieces and they had little market value. The net result was that some were given away and a sand blasting firm was employed for burnishing and sand blasting of the more objectionable angles."

The Lincoln Parkway house was built by the young, wealthy Buffalonian Thomas J. McKinney during the period 1927 to 1929.

McKinney's family had made money in oil. McKinney, married and with an adopted son, spent $1 million to build and furnish the new house, the Arrisons said.

He also died, sadly, just four years after it was completed, in an auto accident in Orlando along with his wife.

After McKinney, another private owner bought the home and then sold it to the Catholic Church. The Church sold it in 1985, Keenan said.

Today, McKinney's attention to detail and lavishness in creating the home can be seen throughout the 10,000-square-foot interior, from the ornately carved American walnut staircase -- complete with "Leroy" the lion at the base of the banister, carved of a single massive piece of the luxe wood -- to the 12 fireplaces, to the brilliantly colored and painstakingly crafted stained glass windows in various rooms. Those windows, by the way, are all handmade and unique: scenes from Grimm's fairy tales in the billiard room, scenes from the Canterbury Tales in the library, garden scenes and zodiac symbols in the breakfast room.

"The quality of the workmanship, you just can't replace it," said Karen Arrison, rubbing "Leroy" fondly. "You either love this house or you hate it. There's no middle ground. It makes a very strong impression."

The Arrisons -- Clement used to be president of Buffalo's Mark IV Industries, while Karen owns an interior design firm -- moved into the home in 2001, shortly after their marriage.

They began working on the property immediately, and the work hasn't let up. Just this month they had repair work under way on the home's Italian tile roof.

It's been an expensive five years of home ownership, said Karen Arrison, but the couple feels they are doing something positive for the City of Buffalo by working to restore and preserve the McKinney mansion.

"This is as big as the Darwin Martin restoration," Karen Arrison said, smiling, "except we're doing it ourselves."

The carriage house, at the back of the property, used to house McKinney's four Rolls Royce automobiles. It also has a two-story structure attached, which contained the McKinney's game and smoking rooms -- hence the bacchanalian imagery on the glass windows and doors -- and a glass-roofed conservatory.

The carriage house was unoccupied for years before the Arrisons bought the property, Karen Arrison said, and had fallen into disrepair.

As for its missing windows, the Arrisons have employed the services of Neal Vogel, a glass window expert and restoration consultant at Restoric LLC in Chicago, to help them track down the missing panels.

Not all of the lead-and-glass window panels were removed from the carriage house, Vogel said -- it appears that 68 out of 266 panels were lifted out in all. Many belonged to the Diana and Bacchus scenes; others were portions of glass doors and likely depicted nymphs or other figures.

In general, the parts removed were the portions of the vintage windows that showed scenes and figural forms, especially of women, Vogel said, basing his judgments on a few surviving photographs and the "little clues" to the missing scenes left by the peripheral metalwork on the surrounding panels.

Vogel called the hunt for the missing panels "like Wheel of Fortune" -- "at what point are enough letters -- panels -- flipped to figure out the complete phrase, or design?"

As part of the research, Vogel has sought information from the studios that were prominent makers of lead-silhouette glass windows in the United States in the late 1800s through the mid-20th century. Several major studios were making the special glass windows at the time McKinney built his house, Vogel said, including studios in Rochester, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh.

But an attempt to track down information about the windows from their makers has been so far unsuccessful, he said.

"We know it's a long shot," said Vogel. "But we also don't think it's impossible."

That leaves the Arrisons hoping someone, somewhere, will hear or read about their missing windows and be able to provide some information -- if not the panels themselves.

"A window like Diana would not have been very easy to auction," said Karen Arrison. "But we don't really know. That's hard."

e-mail: cvogel@buffnews.com

There are no comments - be the first to comment