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Seven original Wright-designed art glass panels coming home

Seven original art glass window panels are coming home to the Martin House Complex.

Their return –  scheduled to happen in October – will come nearly a half century after the University of Victoria purchased them in a public sale, when the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed estate was vacant and in decline.

"We are doing the 'Wright' thing by reuniting these stunningly beautiful light screens within their original context," said Mary Jo Hughes, director of the university's Legacy Art Galleries.

"Because UVic recognized that Wright's work can only fully be understood when seen as a unified whole, the light screens will go home this fall to the Martin House, following five decades of careful stewardship by the university," she said in a statement.

The art glass windows – most of which will go into the main Darwin Martin House on the Parkside estate – will be returned in October after first being displayed in the university exhibit, "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright," from Saturday to Sept. 16.

"It's a wonderful show of collegiality," said Mary Roberts, the Martin House Restoration Corp.'s executive director.

Three of the windows returning to the Darwin Martin House. (Photo courtesy of University of Victoria Legacy Art Galleries/Martin House Restoration Corporation; taken by Rob Destrubé)

The not-for-profit made the initial request for the return of the art glass windows. Roberts said the university was under no obligation to do so.

"People often think art repatriation has a negative connotation when you think of things that were looted in Europe during World War II," Roberts said. "This is different. They have every right to their ownership."

[A Closer Look: The Darwin Martin House]

"They bought them at a public auction during a period when the Martin House was abandoned and uncared for. We make no claims of ownership, but we are just so pleased that they understood why these art glass windows should come back to the Martin House," Roberts said.

Two small replicas of art glass windows are being given to the Legacy Art Galleries so they can display something in their collection.

One of the returning art glass panels. (Photo courtesy of University of Victoria Legacy Art Galleries/Martin House Restoration Corp.; image taken by Rob Destrubé)

"A very modest amount" of money is also being given to cover the cost of their transfer to Buffalo, and for their stewardship over the years, Roberts said.

Their return constitutes the largest gift of art glass panels yet, with a value in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more than $1 million, she said.

The five buildings in the Martin estate once had a total of 394 art glass windows. Of this total, 260 were in the Martin House, 45 in the Barton House and 89 in the conservatory and carriage house, as well as doors leading from the pergola to conservatory.

About 60 percent of the original collection remains, Roberts said. Regaining more original windows and fabricating replacements is expected to continue for years, even as all interior and landscaping work is due to be completed in 2018.

Six types of windows are being returned, including one of only two laylights Wright incorporated above the landing on the Martin House's second floor.

"We're very excited about that laylight in particular coming back," Roberts said.

The matching window is located in Charles Hosmer Morse Museum, in Winter Park, Fla.

Roberts said the organization had broached the subject of its return with them, as it does with other museums, galleries and private collectors who have art glass panels in their collections.

A dozen public museums and galleries have art glass windows from the Martin House in their possession, including the de Young Museum in San Francisco, the Corning Museum of Glass, the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

Two art institutions – the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and New York University's Grey Art Gallery – gave the Martin House Complex "Tree of Life" windows.

"We keep a comprehensive list," Roberts said, "and we're persistent."

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