In conjunction with the exhibition Buffalo’s Monuments Men (on view at the Albright-Knox through April 6), the “Art and the War at Home” series showcases materials from the museum’s library and archives to highlight the special programs and initiatives that the Albright-Knox mounted in order to educate, entertain, and encourage Buffalo’s citizens during World War II.
In early 1943, Buffalo’s major cultural institutions began collaborating on a program series titled “The World We Must Know When the Boys Come Home.” Designed to “familiarize persons in the Buffalo area with the locality and conditions of the battle fronts to which American boys are sent,” the series included exhibitions, lectures, concerts, films and other activities drawn from the resources of the Albright Art Gallery, the Buffalo Museum of Science, the Grosvenor Library, the Buffalo Public Library, the Buffalo Historical Society, and the Buffalo Zoological Gardens.
The series ran from March 1943 until April 1944, with installments focusing on the “political, economic, geographical, and zoological” aspects of the South Seas, Latin America, Russia, North Africa, China, France, England, and the “Netherlandish Indies.”
In addition to the expected array of art works, books, cultural artifacts, and scientific specimens, the exhibitions included live animals contributed by the Buffalo Zoo. The connection between the animal and the featured culture seems to have been tenuous on occasion—while the cobra for North Africa, or the Chinese pheasant for China make sense, the use of hamsters to represent Russia is a bit perplexing!
Nevertheless, contemporary newspaper accounts of librarians charmed by Emil the emu, the enthusiasm with which hamster procreation was met, and the exploits of a rooster named Gaulois as he roamed the halls of the Albright Art Gallery must have provided some much-needed levity to Buffalonians during the war.
For more on the history of Buffalo’s Monuments Men, read Part I and Part II of our “Art in the War at Home” series, check back on Monday, March 24 for the next installment in the series, and visit the exhibition Buffalo’s Monuments Men, on view now.