Wade Lawrence couldn't stop gasping. "This is the mother lode."
He was rifling, carefully, through 100-year-old sketches done on onion-skin paper. It was a portfolio of work by Anne Weston, a Duluth artist and resident at the turn of the 20th century known for her work designing Tiffany stained-glass windows, notably the "Minnehaha" and "Sieur duLhut" windows at the Duluth Depot.
Lawrence, an expert on Weston's work, found himself at another home of Weston windows Thursday -- First Presbyterian Church on Second Avenue East in Duluth. He had been flown in from New York by producers of the PBS television show "History Detectives," which is working on an episode surrounding the artist's work.
"We've made a discovery," show producer Kristen Vaurio said as the film crew set up and Lawrence continued to show his astonishment over a portfolio of work he'd never seen before but, he estimated, probably will confirm that Weston was the designer of several works around Duluth and across the country.
"This is absolutely rich," Lawrence said. The show producers met Lawrence at the church and showed him the book Thursday morning.
Later in the day, the crew set up at the Depot to talk with the person who got the whole show idea going, Brian Frey of Kalispell, Mont. He is the great-great-grandson of Anne Weston and sent an e-mail about six months ago to "History Detectives" producers asking about a watercolor painting he had. He knew some of his family's artistic talent and that Anne Weston was the artist, but he knew little else.
A big break in his personal research came through controversy in Duluth in 2008. Frey said he came across stories about the "Minnehaha" window and the city's soon-scuttled plan to sell it to make budget ends meet. "That's how it all started," Frey said. He finally had a link between Anne Weston and the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany. And to Duluth and her many works here. It meant a pit stop last year during a cross-country trip to see the Depot windows himself.
Working with the show has been a whirlwind, Frey said, and he never expected to be called and asked to come to Duluth for shooting. "We sent in the e-mail and got a response," he said. "It snowballed from there."
With time to kill at the Twin Cities airport Wednesday, Frey met Mary Anne Barnett, his grandmother's cousin, for the first time. He found out about the Minnesota Weston relative through the 2008 stories about the "Minnehaha."
"I get to see wonderful windows, learn more about my family, and even meet a family member I didn't know I had," he said of the two days in Minnesota.
John and Anne Weston moved to Duluth from the East Coast in 1888 and he set up a medical practice. They lived a life high on the Duluth social calendar. She was active in women's groups, who were mostly responsible for getting the two Depot windows for the city library, and was an art teacher and helped establish the Duluth Art Institute.
The couple and their five children moved to California in 1912.
"History Detectives" host Gwen Wright got the Weston assignment and spoke in Duluth on Thursday about the show's search for answers that go beyond a mere object. She said Weston's story is about an emergence of women becoming important in the arts.
"It talks about a shift," Wright said, "We want to understand how women became part of the arts world and how she fits."
She said Weston is a good example of someone who may have been forgotten in history, known merely as "Mrs. J.B. Weston." She said the show's aim to dig into "things unfinished."
Lawrence began his Weston research on a lark. He had an interest in art history and got a grant in the 1970s to document stained-glass works in Duluth. That's how he came to know Weston and her stunning Tiffany works in churches and private homes.
He did more research while getting a degree in art history in the mid-'80s at the University of Minnesota. He wrote a paper on Weston based on drawings he was able to document through a relative in California, Weston's daughter, Betty Ogden.
"I had no training then," Lawrence said of his trip to see the Weston portfolio that had been "under a bed" in the Ogden home. "I was just an enthusiast."
Oddly enough, Brian Frey says he remembers the interviews and visit Lawrence made, so Thursday's televised meeting actually would have been their second time together.
Frey's specific question for "History Detectives" was whether the watercolor he had was ever designed into a window. Lawrence confirmed that he had seen a sketch of the same work on that trip to see Betty Ogden. Did it become a window? If so, where is it? Those are among the questions to be answered when the show airs on PBS next summer as "History Detectives" marks its ninth season.
In 1984, Lawrence was part of Duluth's 80th anniversary celebration of the "Sieur duLhut" window. He was interviewed about Weston during the "Minnehaha" controversy but mostly put the research and interest behind him. He was the director at the Glensheen Historic Estate before taking a job last year as the director in upstate New York of the Museum at Bethel Woods, better known for its location at the site of the famed Woodstock concert.
"They called me up and asked if I was the guy," Lawrence said of the "History Detectives" producers who had found one of his papers on Weston. He thought that he would confirm a few facts and go on.
"Now I think there's a project here," he said after seeing the newly discovered portfolio producers showed him Thursday. "I may jump back into it. There could be a book here."