Friday, February 22, 2013

Tomorrow at Hudson Chautauqua

The Hudson Chautauqua is a new phenomenon in town, but the lecture series that has been going on there has so far been excellent. Last month, Hudson Valley historian and raconteur Paul Barrett shared his knowledge of the mansions that once surrounded Lyndhurst during the Gilded Age of Tarrytown. Among the stories and information he shared about the opulent houses that used to be was this remarkable tale of research and serendipitous discovery.

One of the lost mansions of Tarrytown was Millbrook, a blue granite mansion reminiscent of a 17th-century castle. It was built in 1888 and demolished in 1957. From an obscure 1891 article in the New York Times, Barrett learned this previously unknown detail about the once grand mansion. Elihu Vedder (1836-1923), an American Romantic painter and illustrator, had designed a magnificent stained glass window for Millbrook. Measuring 6 feet by 15 feet, the window had dominated the landing of the mansion's main staircase. It depicted a woman drawing aside the curtain of night to reveal the first hint of dawn, and it was entitled Morning.

The second amazing discovery Barrett made was that Morning still existed. In 2008, fifty years after Millbrook had been demolished, Doris Cultraro, a stained glass artist and the owner of DC Studios in Rhinebeck, was asked to restore a large stained glass window for a client in Cold Spring. The client and her husband had purchased the window in 1960 from a salvage yard in Yonkers. They paid $100 for it, hauled it away in a pickup truck, and installed it in a new house they were building. All they knew about the window is what they had been told at the salvage yard: it had been commissioned in the late 19th century for a mansion in Tarrytown which had since been demolished.

Cultraro recognized that the quality and detail of the window was consistent with the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany and the other great studios of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but she could discover no information about it. Stories about the mystery window appeared in the local papers, and one of these stories came to the attention of Barrett. The article was accompanied by a photograph of the window, and Barrett realized that the window matched the description of Morning in the 1891 article he had discovered about Elihu Vedder. Barrett contacted Cultraro, and, in Barrett's own words, "after more than fifty years, the window and its provenance were reunited."

Tomorrow, Saturday, February 23, Cultraro will be at the Hudson Chautauqua to tell, with slides, the intriguing story of the discovery and restoration of Morning. Samples of the original glass and custom-made replacement glass will be on display. The event begins at 3 p.m., and attendees are advised to come early to ensure getting a seat. The Hudson Chautauqua is located at 49A Eighth Street.

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