Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image from inetours.com
From guardian.co.uk,by Ed Pikington, New York,Thursday 12 August 2010:
At some point in the 1950s a craftsman called Buckley was working on a site in lower Manhattan when he came across a stash of papers dumped in a skip. They were a set of architectural drawings in watercolours of plans for city parks including details of fountains, clocks, terraces and other structures.
What probably caught Buckley's eye was the stately nature of the designs and their elaborate colouring. Recognising their innate value, he took a pile of more than 100 of the drawings home and filed them away for safe keeping.
More than 50 years later they have become the subject of a $1m (£640,000) lawsuit lodged at the New York supreme court. The legal action was brought by the city's authorities against the late craftsman's son, Sam Buckley, and Christie's, the auctioneers through whom he tried to sell the drawings.
They were the work of Jacob Wrey Mould, a British architect who came to New York in 1853 to design a Unitarian church in Fourth Avenue and 20th Street. Though the building has long been pulled down, in its day it was quite a sensation with its striped facade of red and cream stone earning it the nickname Church of the Holy Zebra.
Mould, an irascible man who was not much liked but greatly admired, went on to collaborate with Calvert Vaux, co-designer of Central Park. Together they planned the original buildings of the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, while Mould also had a large hand in Belvedere Castle and the carvings of the Bethesda Terrace, both in Central Park. Later, he was seminal in the creation of other quintessential New York features such as Morningside and Riverside Parks.
Most of the drawings were signed by Mould. They display his love of vibrant colours as a student of the designer and polychrome theorist Owen Jones with whom he designed a room in Buckingham Palace. They include plans for structures that were built, such as Bethesda Fountain, as well as ones that were not – a set of street lamps for Park Avenue, for instance.
Every one was stamped with the badge of the New York Parks Department, for whom Mould worked from 1857 to shortly before his death in 1886.
When Christie's was commissioned by the younger Buckley to sell 86 of the 127 drawings in his late father's possession, the auction house contacted the city authorities for help with valuing the works and to ask whether New York wanted the first chance to buy them.
But the city saw an invaluable historic collection that should never have left its public ownership.
"They are the kind of thing we would never throw away, but for whatever reason they were erroneously discarded or lost," said Gerald Singleton, the lawyer representing the city. "Once we looked at them we realised that the city remains the owner of these drawings."
It has persuaded the New York court to put a preliminary restraining order that prevents Buckley or Christie's from selling any of the drawings.
In return, the city has promised to back off from its legal threats and to attempt to reach a settlement.
"We're confident this will end amicably," Singleton said.
If New York regains the drawings, it has pledged to use them when renovating historic parts of the city.
Lucille Gordon, Mould's biographer, said the documents were also hugely important in the understanding of the architect himself. "He is a piece of our history – his work is scattered all over New York state. Yet so few papers of any kind have been left behind, and any scrap that Mould touched has a value."