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A window into Tiffany

Morse Museum's expansion puts designer's better-known works in perspective

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So when Laurelton Hall, Tiffany's 84-room mansion on Long Island, was destroyed by a mysterious fire in 1957, it was no wonder that his daughters contacted the McKeans first. The couple made a pact to salvage whatever was contained in the ashen ruins. With that, Winter Park became Tiffany's new home, as the couple recovered more and more of the artist's glass works, tiles, carved doorframes, pottery and paintings from the estate and at auctions 
and galleries.

Today, the Morse is a fortress on Park Avenue, a blank facade visitors enter through a minimalist doorway. Once inside, the eyes adjust to the dim but warm lighting and are soon sensitized to the intense colors and patterns in the windows, lamps and vases on display. The museum has something of a mystique about it - it takes no public funds, operating on an endowment left by the McKeans to sustain it, and it barely announces its presence in the community; it's almost as if it functions on a need-to-know basis. Out-of-town and international visitors vastly outnumber the locals, which is a shame considering that a visit to the Morse is a ludicrously cheap way to dramatically deepen one's understanding of a particular period of American art.

Admission is even free for a month to entice neighbors to stop in: Would that ever happen at the theme parks?

In the new wing, Tiffany's Daffodil Terrace, a marble-
columned porch with finely carved and painted wood beams crisscrossing over delightful column capitals decorated with daffodils, has been reconstructed. Some capitals are displayed at eye level so you can get a good look at the craftsmanship: Light glints off the thick yellow and green glass petals mortared into the capital. Each of these century-old pieces is handmade, unique.

In one gallery, a Laurelton Hall window stands backlit, its panels illustrated according to themes: geology, astronomy, science, religion, knowledge and entombment (which features the entombment of Christ). Each is a source of inspiration Tiffany taught to his apprentices. Embroidered in frenzied Celtic patterns at the edge and richly colored, the piece is at once traditional and timeless. Next to it is "Snowball and Wisteria Window"; off-center and lacking a focal point, this piece is marvelously influenced by Japanese Ichibana compositional style - so sophisticated, and even more intense due to its small size. Behind these windows, macho carved-wood doors from Laurelton 
stand; the carving in them is done with such fine detail that from afar they look almost furry.

From vases that were part of Comfort's personal collection to the elaborate architectural tiles used to frame a doorway at Laurelton Hall, this exhibit makes one 
thing abundantly clear: Wealth and excess in Victorian times bought the best of American art and craft; by contrast, wealth and excess in today's times buys little of either.

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