A Case Study in Repatriation

The Darwin D. Martin House in Buffalo, NY is a masterful example of a Prairie Style residential complex that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright between 1903 and 1905.

The Martin House actively seeks the return of original Frank Lloyd Wright designed art glass windows that were removed when the house was vacated for a number of decades. The Martin House has since undergone major renovations and is now a museum and National Historic Landmark. The windows are some of the last pieces needed to complete the restoration.

The University of Victoria Legacy Art Galleries has cared for seven windows from the Martin House that were purchased for the collection in the 1960s. The Martin House formally requested the Legacy Art Galleries to repatriate the windows.

The Martin House asked the gallery to consider:

What is lost when works of art are removed from their context?

Can the sum of the parts ever be equal to the unified whole?

Legacy Art Galleries made the bold decision to repatriate the windows in 2017, coinciding with the 150th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s birth. Read more about how the gallery came to their decision.

In the case of museums, repatriation means the return of an object to its place, community or country of origin. Repatriation is a concept embedded in museum collections policy that recognizes there are sometimes valid reasons to remove objects from their permanent museum collection. For example, transferring them to a more relevant museum or their original context so that they can have a more significant cultural impact.

Martin House Dining Room. Photograph by Henry Fuerman, after 1905. Centre Canadien d’Architecture/Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal, PH1983:0218