The Color Treatment of the Pan-American Exposition

by Edward Hale Brush
Scientific American Supplement, November 10, 1901

In determining to give color treatment to the buildings of the Pan-American Exposition the management well understood that to create an exposition whose outward aspect should be essentially different from anything of the kind created heretofore would be a task of exceeding difficulty. indeed, it was feat to be well nigh an impossibility to attain success unless the buildings could be colored. There could not be another "White City." To create one would simply challenge comparison with Chicago's supreme achievement in the Columbian Exposition of 1893, and occasion unfavorable comment rather than the reverse. Color there must be, but how was it to be accomplished? The practical difficulties in the way of giving suitable and artistic coloring to the temporary staff without consuming all the funds of the Exposition in the purchase of paint seemed almost insurmountable. But persistent and intelligent study of the problem has won the day, and in this respect, as well as others, the Pan-American Exposition now bids fair to be a signal success.

The selection of the Spanish Renaissance style of architecture for the buildings of the Exposition was a fortunate one in view of the need to make unique in appearance and give the exteriors of the structures color. To prepare a color scheme suitable to classic architecture would have been a dubious task indeed. But with buildings in the Spanish style color is a natural and fitting adjunct and rich, warm tints may appropriately be used in abundance, for they but enhance the beauty of form the structures themselves possess; and with courts and fountains and floral and horticultural effects such as the Pan-American Exposition will have in profusion, the charm of a setting tropical in its richness is attained. Having determined upon giving the Pan-American Exposition buildings color, the next thing was to find a man capable of putting it on. From the very first the aim of the creators of this Exposition has been to make it on the artistic side a complete and harmonious ensemble. To this end there has been the closest co-operation between every department. Every effort has been made to avoid haphazard work and jarring contrasts. The avoidance of the incongruous and inartistic in the laying on of the color was of especial importance and also of unusual difficulty in view of the fact that there were few precedents to follow, so that he who would achieve success must possess in a marked degree the creative instinct.

In Charles Y. Turner, N.A., president of the Art Students' League, of New York, and a leading member of the National Society of Mural Painters, the Exposition management found an artist who has proved equal to the task. Mr. Turner has had the assistance of other mural painter's of national reputation, and the problems to be solved have been studied with the greatest care on both the practical and the artistic side. The accompanying views give the reader some idea of the work that has been going on in Mr. Turner's studio at No. 35 West Fourteenth Street, New York City.

As will be seen from these pictures, a large corps of artists has been engaged in working out from models of the buildings the color scheme of the Exposition in detail. In the first place, the general character of the color plan was determined upon. This was not left to chance or mere fancy, but was studied out with a special reference to the purposes and situation of the different buildings and the character of the whole Exposition.

The Spanish Renaissance architecture is especially adapted to convey the impression of joyousness and festivity. It lends itself readily to enrichment by ornate sculptural adornment and fantastic treatment in both form and color. It gives an opportunity for decorative enrichment of pinnacles and minarets, of arches and colonnades, of dome interiors and the frames of doors and windows, and all this profusion of color, provided it is harmonious and artistic, heightens the pleasing effects, gives striking contrasts, and is in keeping as a whole with the feeling of gaiety, of buoyancy of spirits which is characteristic of the pleasure-seeking multitude of a great Exposition.

These colors as laid on at the Pan-American will, in many places, particularly in the pavilions, arches over doorways, and colonnades, give the impression of mosaic work. Other pleasing effects will be produced, as, for instance, the grill work over the main entrances to the Machinery building, which will be colored to resemble bronze. Similar effects will be produced in the principal entrances to other structures.

The color is now being applied on some of the buildings, and some idea can therefore be obtained already of the artistic effects which will be produced. Experiments have been made with all kinds of paint, and an especially prepared oil paint has been adopted which is found, after sufficient trial on the staff work, to hold its color well and stand drying like any other paint. As I have said, the general chromatic scheme is planned with reference to the purposes of the buildings, their situation and the general character of the group. The same is true of the sculpture, produced under the direction of Karl Bitter, and the landscape settings, under the supervision of Rudolf Ulrich.

Mr. Turner's scheme has been to follow out the main ideas of the composition, as the architects and sculptors have been doing. The roofs, as a whole, will be in red the staff walls tinted in yellows and grays and delicate tones of ivory at varying hues. These light walls and red roofs with heavy foliage banked below and the blue sky above reflected in the interspersed lagoons Mr. Turner calls his primary colors. In this large and comprehensive effect is to be the great picture of the Exposition. The smaller pictures will be discovered in studying the detail.

In general the plan is to have the coloring of the buildings progress in intensity as one enters the Triumphal Bridge in the southern portion of the grounds, where one gets the first comprehensive view of the Exposition as a whole and where one's first impressions of its grandeur are obtained.

In the Transverse Court, the profile of which faces one at the approach of the grounds, there will be the richest coloring. To the left the walls of the Mines, Horticulture and Graphic Arts building will be a warm buff color; the roofs, a medium dark terra cotta. On the right the walls of the Government buildings will be more yellowish. Together these buildings will be the lowest in key in the main vista. In comparison with the rest of the coloring, Mr. Turner calls this crude and strong. From there the buildings on the sides of the Court of Fountains, the main court running directly away from the entrance, will be lighter and - more refined in coloring, changing frown yellows into grays, the roofs being in hues of lighter reds. First the buildings of Machinery and Manufactures and Liberal Arts will have walls of light yellow and drab or gray, then the Electricity building and the Agricultural building opposite will be of a warm light yellow and French gray. The architectural climax of the Exposition, the Electric Tower, by John Galen Howard, standing at the head of the Court of the Fountains, will strike the highest key of all, being of ivory white with the open work panel on the shaft a broken mass of delicate green, blue and gold. The figure surmounting the tower at a height of 375 feet, the Goddess of Light, will be gilded, and in the rays of the sun will be a dazzling object, visible many miles away.

The accompanying views show how the work of putting on these colors has been studied. Mr. Turner has models prepared of the different buildings, so as to give in miniature an exact reproduction of the entire Exposition. These twenty carefully finished architectural models, each about 15 inches high and on a scale of about one-sixteenth of an inch to the foot, were grouped according to the plan of the Exposition, and upon them and upon other models in plaster, some of which were worked out in most elaborate and perfect detail, the colors are being tried. By comparing the effects of the color upon the models inharmonious results are avoided. Preliminary color studies and experimental treatment of the models prepared the way for the filling in of the details of the general plan and the making of watercolor drawings to be used as guides in laying the colors on the staff of the buildings themselves. I say "guides" advisedly, because they cannot be followed precisely, various conditions requiring change in some details when the paint is tried upon the staff in the open air.

In Mr. Turner's studio the blue sky was represented by a painted scroll 8 feet high, and even green shrubbery and trees were reproduced in miniature, so that none of the effects and contrasts of the real Exposition might be lost.

Take as an instance of the color scheme in detail one of the entrances to the machinery building. These entrances are elaborate in their sculptural and mural enrichment. The general principle followed in laying on the color is to give the columns and relief work light tints and obtain contrasts and a rich effect by darker and warmer hues in the background. Thus, in this entrance the pillars are given an ivory tint, the ornamental bases and capitals of the fluted columns are enriched with golden background and the main wall at the back is a light soft red, while the arches of the doorways are treated in red, blue, yellow, and other tints to give a mosaic work effect. The cornice of the hood over the entrance will be of brownish wood color. Passing through the entrance and coming to the vestibule, the color will assume an exceedingly rich tone, and the same will be true of the pavilions, which will have elaborate and even gorgeous hues, the colors heightening the effect of the richly ornamented architecture.

Realizing that color is a delicate thing to experiment with, many had expressed the fear that the new departure which has been made in coloring the buildings of the Pan- American would not be a success. From a careful study of what has now been accomplished, it is safe to predict that in this as well as other respects the Exposition which is springing into reality here on the Niagara frontier is going to give the appreciative and discriminating public a most agreeable surprise.


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