Launched in 1931 as part of the Buffalo Education Service under the Works Progress Administration (WPA), 2006 marked the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Art Institute of Buffalo. Founding co-directors were Harry M. Bell and Dr. William M. Hekking (who had just stepped down as director of the Albright Art Gallery). Nationally and locally acclaimed artists who served as faculty included Edwin Dickinson; social realist Isaac Soyer; renowned watercolorist Charles E. Burchfield; abstract landscapist Earl B. Stroh; William B. Rowe; Robert N. Blair; David Pratt; Jean MacKay Henrich; Catherine Catanzaro Koenig; Don Burns; William Ehrich; William Seitz; Mary and Richard Carroll; Henry Gorski; Louise Jameyson; Gerald Gross; James Vullo; Rix Jennings; Oliver Lomax; Faith Davis; and Anthony Sisti. A sampling of its students who developed accomplished careers as artists includes Joe Orffeo, Jeanette Kenney Blair, Walter A. Prochownik, Joseph Eger, William E. West Sr., Joseph Caruana, and Hannah Samuels. Many people who had served in the armed forces were able to attend Art Institute classes on the G. I. Bill. In fact, the Art Institute played a unique role in analyzing and training industrial camouflage – the first such course in the country, conducted with permission of the corps of engineers of the war department.
The Art Institute of Buffalo started as a small teaching institution at the Grosvenor Library at 369 Franklin Street, moved to the Edwards Building at West Genesee and Franklin Streets, and then was housed at 56 Starin Avenue through June 27, 1942. The Art Institute began its fall semester of classes on September 14, 1942 in new headquarters at 530 Elmwood Avenue near West Utica. In 1943, it was listed at 1231 Elmwood Avenue. Subsequently, it expanded to hold classes at 527-535 Elmwood Avenue at West Utica Street until it closed in 1956.
Albert L. Michaels, Ph.D. and local art dealer Bert Grobe served as advisors; Michaels also contributed an essay and Burchfield Penney staff compiled a history comprised of lists of participating faculty and students, exhibitions, transcriptions of important articles and references, and other data, with assistance from interns Gina Neureuther, Robin Erwin, Sara Savino, Max Pitegoff and Lily Lane. Research was facilitated by Art Institute of Buffalo albums of photographs and clippings donated by Wendy Warner, and Jeanette and Robert N. Blair in 1982. Interviews were also conducted with David Pratt, who had been AIB Director from October 1949-August 25, 1952, and Joe Orffeo, who had attended 1942-43 and worked on Art Diploma Projects 1946-50. Both artists were critical to development of the exhibition. This exhibition and the accompanying catalog were made possible with funds from The Vogt Family Foundation. Lenders include many of the artists, as well as private collectors in the region.
A panel discussion, “The Art Institute of Buffalo As We Knew It,” included artists Jeannette Blair, Joe Eger, Joe Orffeo and David Pratt and moderator Anthony Bannon on August 27.