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Pan-American Exposition of 1901

The Visual Landscape

Visual culture at the Pan-American Exposition was richly represented throughout the grounds, with the use of architecture and sculpture as well as artistic exhibits and galleries of fine art. Such visual exhibits were primarily the work of artists from the United States, although significant contributions were made by other "Pan-American" countries like Canada, Mexico and Chile. The Albright Art Gallery, building of marble designed to resemble the temples of Ancient Greece, was to be constructed on the Exposition grounds and was intended to house the Exhibit of Fine Arts. That it was not completed in time for the Exposition was not lost upon Exposition visitors, as this imposing building's construction was itself, an exhibit.

Photograph of the interior of the Fine Arts Gallery

"Very few people seem to be aware, and most people seem surprised to be told, that, whatever else is or is not to be seen at the Pan-American Exposition, there is to be found there the most complete and representative exhibition of American art ever yet got together. ... One could count upon the fingers of one hand the men who have made any mark in American art during [the last quarter of the nineteenth century] who are not here represented by at least one work; and the cases where the work shown is not fairly representative are very few and, for one or another reason, nearly inevitable. The dead and the living, the Americans who paint abroad and those who stay at home, the figure-painter and the landscape-painter, the draughtsman and the colorist, the impressionist and the followers of the latest Parisian fancy-the "black band"-are all here, each doing his best to show that America has produced something vital and permanently valuable in art."1

The directors of art, architecture, sculpture and color were unified in the desire to bring to the fair's visitors, their vision of American civilization and technological prowess of man through an exhibition of the "allied arts." Karl Bitter's sculpture plan emphasizing the "Progress of Man" was enhanced by the color scheme of C. Y. Turner, the Director of Color. The overall layout and design of the grounds and the architectural style of the exposition buildings emphasized what John M. Carèrre and the Board of Architects felt was a uniquely "American" style. William Coffin, Director of Fine Arts would continue this theme in the installation of an exhibit of the works of artists primarily from the United States, but also form other countries of Pan-America.

Of course, the commercial goals of the Pan-American Exposition were apparent even in the fair's visual culture. Evelyn Rumsey Cary's poster, The Spirit of Niagara and Raphael Beck's design for the Exposition's official seal were works used most heavily in the advertising and marketing material for the Exposition as well as the souvenirs sold by the thousands to Exposition visitors.

This portion of the online exhibit examines the "visual culture" of the Pan-American Exposition, from its architectural layout and use of color, to the formal works exhibited in the Gallery of Fine Arts. Also addressed are some of the artistic exhibits that appeared in the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building—works by such names as Tiffany & Co. and Gorham. While these artistic exhibits were commercial in nature and outside the perusal of the Exposition planners, they were never-the-less, awe-inspiring in their artistic nature.

See also, essays related to these subjects, including one describing Buffalo architecture during the period and another describing the work of the Exposition's official photographer, C. D. Arnold.

New Panoramic View of the Illumination Looking for the Triumphal Bridge

"New Panoramic View of the Illumination Looking for the Triumphal Bridge". Photographer: Undetermined. Source: The Latest and Best Views of the Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, N.Y.: Robert Allen Reid, 1901.

From its inception, the architectural board of the Pan-American Exposition was faced with the challenge of meeting the expectations and demands of Exposition planners. The architects were charged not only with the design of the buildings, but also with the development of a formal landscape plan comprising fountains, lagoons, basins, a large network of canals and extensive horticultural plantings. The plan was also expected to encompass extensive electrical illumination effects, which presented a new challenge to architects and designers, but also an opportunity for creative exploration.1


1. Cox, Kenyon. "American Art at Buffalo." The Nation: A Weekly Journal Devoted to Politics, Literature, Science, and Art, August 2, 1901.