Transformation of The Buffalo History Museum took another major step with the opening of Continuum: A History of Erie County. Curated in coordination with the bicentennial anniversary of Erie County (EC200), Continuum offers guests a glimpse into the people and stories that make our community unique. The exhibit will feature over 200 premier objects from our collection illustrative of major themes in local history.
During a ribbon cutting ceremony (Oct. 20, 2021), Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said, “This exhibit honors the county, its people, and the celebration of our bicentennial. When people walk through the exhibit, they will understand more about who we are as a people, and we are going in the future. It is a worthy investment on behalf of the people of our community.”
Continuum features unique artifacts including the pistol used to assassinate President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901, works by celebrated local artists, and rare early 19th century weaponry. It also offers guests unique opportunities to interact with our past through augmented reality. The Buffalo History Museum is the first local museum to offer this experience which will allow guests to direct their smart phones or tablets at “hot spots” throughout the gallery, triggering videos that dive deeper into the story, and a hands-on archaeological experience.”
Museum Executive Director Melissa Brown said, “It is powerful that we are having this moment at this time. Continuum is our legacy contribution to the bicentennial. Mark Poloncarz and the county stepped up and invested in the museum. The county executive has truly been committed to support the county’s rich cultural assets. We are most grateful. Erie County has made a $500,000 capital investment and we really appreciate that commitment.
“Continuum extends the museum’s interpretations of local indigenous peoples, settlement, immigration, industrialization, architecture, the Erie Canal, and the continuing evolution of Erie County.”
Brown also said, “EC200 is endorsing and promoting our community-led projects that showcase our history throughout generations for all of its complexities and all of its nuance. This is a time where people are appreciating the nuance of history. It is not just the subtexts that were taught in history classes. It is more than that. It is personal experiences. We pride ourselves on preserving this history for generations to come.”
One of the collaborators on the exhibit script was museum Board Member Barbara Nevergold, who worked at the museum when she was a student at Buffalo State College. She gave tours to grade schoolers, worked in the museum library, and sorted through donated artifacts. She said, “I never saw myself or my community reflected in these displays. African American history, and in fact, the history of indigenous peoples, Hispanic, Asian Americans and all the other ethnic and cultural groups that contributed to the mosaic that is American history. The message of inclusive American history is even more timely today.
“The very name of this exhibit, Continuum, suggests a movement that is dynamic and transformative, offering the flexibility, as new information is acquired, to add to, modify, and extend stories creating avenues to engage new partners and contributing new narratives to the county’s rich history. The museum is committed to and actively engaged in ensuring that the communities we serve see themselves reflected in every aspect of our services and programs so that every child will always see his story, or her story represented here.”
Erie County Historian Douglas Kohler said, “This exhibit covers, I will go with 10,000 years of history. Not only 10,000 years since the Wisconsin Glacier melted, but 200 years of history for each of the counties 27 municipalities. We’ve created a compelling story, and most importantly, a story that is told through artifacts. What we have done will stand the test of time and will honor the people of the county past, present and in the future.”
Anthony Greco, Museum Director of Director of Exhibits & Interpretive Design, played a key role in the development of Continuum. “This exhibit tells the comprehensive story of Erie County. Everything that we could possibly fit within 3,400 square feet we have put into the exhibit,” he said. “What we did is create a beautiful exhibit that highlights the stories of people inextricable from creating an understanding of what makes Erie County special. We created an exhibit which will peak the interests of guests, historians, and people from out of town so they can come in and get a sampling of why Erie County matters, why this space matters, why the people of our community matter.”
Through field trips and/or virtual classroom experiences, Continuum supports and reinforces the work of educators, providing a resource to build on their curriculum. Perhaps most importantly, the exhibit gives students and youth an engaging, memorable experience with history, featuring a 400 sq. ft. dedicated archeological dig space, providing hands-on learning for children. Device screens become windows into history and the user finds new perspective for our collections. Using augmented reality, users can interact with 3D objects and characters in our world, creating incredible new ways of connecting with historical stories, artifacts, and people. This brings photos and paintings to life. In short, the museum is telling compelling stories in new ways
The direct beneficiaries of this project are the 53,000 multigenerational, culturally diverse people visiting the museum annually. The museum’s goal is to engage the community through experience with our region’s history spanning centuries, generating discovery and shared significance through stories of courage, passion, tenacity, creativity, elegance, and grit.
This project leverages and restores the museum’s National Historic Landmark Building, the sole remaining structure from the 1901 Pan-American Exposition. 3,800 sq. ft. of premiere gallery space has been transformed for the first time since 1994.
Exhibit funders are:
- The County of Erie
- New York State Council on the Arts
- The City of Buffalo
- Hadley Exhibits
- Kohler Awnings
- The Charles D. and Mary A. Bauer Foundation
- The Perry Memorial Fund
- Anne Conable
- Noel Emerling
- Carol Kociela
- William and Maureen O’Donnell
- The Estate of Richard and Patricia Fors
- Linda Ray
Continuum is the second new gallery to be dedicated in the museum this year. In August, restoration of the Penfold Portico Gallery was completed. It serves as a space for programming, field trips, exhibits and special events.