Release Date: September 11, 2007
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A stained-glass hanging medallion celebrating Marie Sklodowska Curie that disappeared from the Polish Collection of the University at Buffalo decades ago has been returned, thanks to the eagle eye of a former UB student and the generosity of the medallion's current owner.
The medallion painted and glazed by renowned artist and artisan Josef Mazur (1897-1970), is composed of a portrait of Curie, who twice won the Nobel Prize, surrounded by additional stained glass work and the word "radioactivity" along the bottom of the piece.
Mazur decorated the interior of the Polish Collection Room in the original Lockwood Memorial Library (now Abbott Hall) on the UB South (Main Street) Campus. In 1955, he created four hangings to celebrate important Polish cultural figures, among them, Copernicus and Curie, and donated them to the collection.
They hung in its windows for more than two decades, but disappeared in the mid-1970s when the Lockwood Library collections -- including the Polish Collection -- were moved to the university's North Campus in Amherst.
No one knows where the rest of them have gone, but the Curie medallion is back at the university, thanks to Gregory Witul, who received a bachelor's degree in geography from UB in 2005. A fourth-generation Polish American from Buffalo's East Side, he is quite familiar with Mazur's paintings, sculptures and stained glass. In fact, he is developing the first all-inclusive catalogue of the artist's work.
On Aug. 24, while perusing eBay auctions looking for Mazur art, Witul found an auction for Mazur's Curie medallion.
He alerted Jean Dickson, curator of the UB Polish Collection, to the sale.
Dickson says, "The UB Libraries were willing to bid on the item, but Greg Lontkowski, whose family inherited the hanging along with other collectibles, generously donated it to the collection."
Lontkowski, an animation director at IBC Digital, Inc., presented the medallion to Dickson on Aug. 28.
"The three companion stained glass hangings may be held by collectors unaware of their history and provenance," Dickson says, "Of course, we would love to recover them."
The UB Libraries ask anyone with information about these art works to contact Dickson at 716-645-2814 ext. 425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mazur, born in Poland's historic Galicia region, was an artist and artisan whose stained glass work can be found in churches in Philadelphia, New York City and Buffalo. "He was a distinguished ecclesiastical painter, as well, and painted murals and frescos in every major Polish church in Buffalo," Witul says, "and in other cities with large Polish populations -- New York, Rochester, Chicago and Detroit; Adams, Mass.; New Haven, Conn.; and Trenton and Perth Amboy in New Jersey.
There are at least 100 murals and perhaps 50 stained glass projects by him in Buffalo's East Side Polish churches, alone. However, a large number of those churches are closed or closing.
"I understand the constraints on finances of the Diocese of Buffalo," Witul says, "so I have no opinion about the closings themselves, but the loss of the art would be very unfortunate. I hope a good portion of it can be saved."
Some of the Mazur murals at Transfiguration Church have been rescued, but others are peeling off the walls and many of the artist's stained glass windows have been smashed.
"Transfiguration was my family's parish for generations so, personally, it is a very sad thing for me to see," Witul says. "In fact, it makes my mother cry."
Besides his work at Transfiguration, Mazur was responsible for the complete decoration of St. Stanislaus Church and Our Lady of Czestochowa Church, and for all murals, frescos and stained glass in Buffalo's magnificent Corpus Christi Church.
He also produced murals in St. Adalbert's Basilica (his home church), Blessed Trinity Church and St. John Gualbert Church. They also can be found on Sycamore Street in Holy Mother of the Rosary Cathedral of the Buffalo-Pittsburg diocese of Polish National Church. All of these churches are celebrated for the beautiful design of their interior space.
Even some of Corpus Christi's secularized parish buildings boast of his work, as does Holy Trinity Church in Niagara Falls; St. Aloysius Church in Springville and Villa Maria Academy, Cheektowaga.
Mazur's secular works include murals in the club house of the Buffalo's Chopin Singing Society, the bronze bust of Frederick Chopin that stands in front of Kleinhan's Music Hall in Buffalo, and in the Pulaski Club in Olean, a life-sized portrait of the renowned Polish General Kazimierz Pulaski, the "Father of the American Cavalry," who died fighting in the American Revolutionary War.