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Photo by Joshua Paul

In Rome, the cleaved columns, fractured friezes, and ­other rock-like ruins of ancient civilizations are strewn about tourist destinations for folks to touch and admire. Here in the States, we tend to keep architectural artifacts under lock and key, or at least under the watchful eye of a museum guard.

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Luckily, though, there are fragments of somewhat recent vintage at salvage yards that you can not only handle but also buy and bring home. What you'll find are stone pieces from the 1800s that were hand-carved by European immigrants, as well as terra-cotta decorations, such as my cornice from around 1910. The latter, which came bare—in earthy red or white—or coated in colorful glazes, were popular because they could be mass-produced from molds.