Luminous Moods in Shards of Tiffany The New York Times February 14, 2011. By Michael Wilson Salvaging someone else’s throwaways is a New York City tradition. But to this day, few curbside discoveries can compete in beauty and utility with what Vito D’Agostino piled into his Model T almost 80 years ago. Mr. D’Agostino arrived at Ellis Island from Sicily in 1908. He walked more than five miles to college from his Spring Street apartment to save on subway fare. As an art collector, however, he didn’t let his modest means dull a discriminating palate. So when he learned in 1933 that boxes full of stained-glass fragments were being junked on the East Side of Manhattan, he hurried to the scene. For it was not just any stained glass. It was the colored favrile glass made by Louis Comfort Tiffany in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Tiffany died in 1933, by which time his Art Nouveau glasswork — elaborate, filigreed creations that he called his “quest for beauty” — was considered old-fashioned and fussy. Art dealers, salvagers and collectors were smashing his lamps and window panels to remove and melt the bronze and lead from the frames. As the glass was being dumped in the East River, Mr. D’Agostino loaded boxes of it into his Ford. In salvaging the Tiffany shards, he made possible its reuse two generations later in new works of art by his grandson, John D’Agostino, 35. The younger D’Agostino has taken 128 large-scale, abstract photographs of the glass fragments, lit and enlarged and close enough to reveal the air bubbles, streaks and other imperfections that are now recognized as making Tiffany favrile glass so precious. He’s been at work on the project since 2007, when he discovered the glass in his parents’ basement in Richmond Hill, Queens. There were more than 1,000 pieces in about a dozen boxes. He now keeps the glass at his photo studio in Hoboken, N.J., slowly sorting it as having been photographed or not. “I’m picking up the glass and holding it up to the light and trying to figure out what the heck I should do with it,” he said. “Stained glass is actually a misnomer,” Mr. D’Agostino said. “Favrile — it’s very, very impure. Instead of staining glass he cooked it up in these big pots. He had a big team of master chemists who poured ores and oxides and whatever else in the pot.” Tiffany would even throw pieces of uranium and $5 gold coins into the stew, Mr. D’Agostino said. The results were much more dynamic — “dense, thick, worn” — than ordinary stained glass. “One element will come out to be a red color and another will be green,” he said. Mr. D’Agostino photographs the glass with digital cameras and also on a flatbed scanner. He illuminates the fragments from above, below and within, by means of a light table. “Tiffany’s medium was really light, not glass,” he said. “Tiffany used glass to trap light.” His pictures have been shown in New York, Houston, Cincinnati and Boston. Several were published in a limited edition monograph with the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, Mass. He sees nothing monotonous about taking pictures of colored glass. “Your eye starts to see things that sort of come into focus a little bit and then fade out,” Mr. D’Agostino said. “Each year’s body of work has slowly evolved. That’s why it still interests me. Some projects, the artists do the same thing four years in a row. I could never do that.” Michael Wilson is a Metro reporter at The Times who has covered all things New York, from crime to the weather to the ouster of the Russian spy Anna Chapman and the candidacy for governor of James McMillan on the Rent Is Too Damn High ticket.