Book by UB Vice Provost Celebrates Pan-American Exposition

Release Date: April 19, 2001 This content is archived.


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A new book by UB Vice Provost Kerry Grant looks at the fun and spectacle of the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A century ago, the City of Buffalo opened for the world the gates to its "Rainbow City" -- a sweeping spectacle of color and light that defined the Pan-American Exposition of 1901.

Then the eighth-largest city in the nation, Buffalo brought to fruition an elaborate display of architecture and electricity celebrating the economic and technological prosperity of the time -- to which millions came to marvel.

One hundred years later -- and once again illuminating Buffalo -- a University at Buffalo administrator has recaptured the vibrancy and innovation of the Pan-Am in his book, "The Rainbow City: Celebrating Light, Color and Architecture at the Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo 1901."

In keeping with the spirit of community that launched the Pan-American Exposition, the book itself evolved into a collaborative community project. Authored by Kerry Grant, UB vice provost for academic affairs and dean of the Graduate School, it was designed by David Buck of Crowley-Webb and Associates, a Buffalo advertising agency. William H. Siener, director of the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, provides the introduction. The book was printed by Dual Printing and published by Canisius College Press, with financial support from the John R. Oishei Foundation.

The book's formal release on April 25 will be marked with a public reception and book signing from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, 25 Nottingham Court.

After arriving in Buffalo in 1991 as dean of the then-Faculty of Arts and Letters, Grant said he chose to spend time learning what made the community unique. In doing so, he became aware, through a colleague, of one of the most significant moments in Western New York history: the Pan-American Exposition.

Grant, a Pan-Am enthusiast and collector of exposition artifacts since acquainting himself with Buffalo's history, said he was intrigued most about the Pan-Am's extraordinary use of color throughout the exposition grounds. But the Pan-Am images he came across most often were black-and-white photographs. He began to gather materials that addressed the use of color -- such as guidebooks, periodicals, lithographs and maps -- as well as provided clues to what he considered to be an incredibly well-executed treatment of architecture, landscaping, color and art.

Grant proposed to Siener that a volume celebrating the artistic accomplishments of the Pan-American exposition would be a fitting centennial project. Joseph F. Bieron of Canisius College Press, himself a Pan-Am enthusiast, soon came into the fold, as did Buck, who was chosen as the book's designer not only for his award-winning credentials, but also for his shared interest in the exposition.

The book -- a rich textual and visual tapestry, 160 pages in length -- brings to light the ambitious color and architectural schemes that symbolically depicted and celebrated the progress of civilization.

A "coffee table"-style publication, it draws on images and artifacts from private collections, as well as the historical society. Paintings by artist John Ross Key -- which recently were restored in anticipation of the centennial -- are featured throughout the book. And architectural renderings and works that never before have been displayed or published -- including original promotional pieces for the Pan Am, advertisements and paraphernalia -- also contribute to the book's 200-plus images.

The Pan-Am has been of unwavering interest to Grant, who sees the event as "a very important cultural landmark."

Spanning some 350 acres, the Free Renaissance-style buildings of the Pan-Am were designed to be temporary, constructed of plaster and fiber binder -- a material like stucco -- that could be torn down easily when the exposition closed six months later.

Buffalo's Rainbow City by day was a flood of red, blue, green and gold hues, and at night, the buildings were transformed into the "City of Living Lights." At the center of this spectacle was the Electric Tower, a symbolic beacon of technological prowess for the time, as well as an aesthetic triumph that loomed more than 400 feet above the grounds of the exposition.

"A lot of what Pan-Am was, was the fun and spectacle of it," he says. But the book delves deeper, touching not only on the involvement of technology and architecture in the exposition, but also the involvement -- and exclusion -- of women and people of color.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Copies of "The Rainbow City: Celebrating Light, Color and Architecture at the Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo 1901" may be obtained by contacting Joseph F. Bieron at Canisius College Press at 716-888-2357.

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