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New visitor center, 'Taj Mahal' Colorama debut at George Eastman Museum 

click to enlarge The George Eastman Museum on Thursday dedicated its new visitor center, which opens to the public on Saturday. One of Kodak's vintage Coloramas depicting the Taj Mahal guides your way to the new entrance. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE / WXXI NEWS
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE / WXXI NEWS
  • The George Eastman Museum on Thursday dedicated its new visitor center, which opens to the public on Saturday. One of Kodak's vintage Coloramas depicting the Taj Mahal guides your way to the new entrance.
When visitors arrive at the George Eastman Museum, they’ll now be greeted by a 48-feet-long and more than 14-feet-high image of the Taj Mahal. It’s the first of the Eastman Kodak Company’s iconic Colorama photos gracing the museum’s parking lot.

The evolution of the George Eastman House into a world-class photography museum has been an ongoing process. The public gets its first look at the latest incarnation Saturday, with not only the Colorama billboard, but the opening of the new Thomas Tischer Visitor Center and the dramatic new Colorama display at the photography pioneer’s former home on East Avenue.

“The goal of this was to create a much more central, welcoming, accessible entrance to the museum that really pulls all aspects of the museum together,” says Eliza Kozlowski, director of marketing and engagement at the museum.

On Wednesday afternoon, she took the opportunity to discuss the renovations at the museum, first ducking into Eastman’s old pottery shed, then relocating indoors in search of a quiet spot where the sound of construction couldn’t be heard.

“It’s hard to find a quiet place around here.”
click to enlarge The visitor center at the George Eastman Museum melds new construction and historical elements. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE / WXXI NEWS
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE / WXXI NEWS
  • The visitor center at the George Eastman Museum melds new construction and historical elements.
The areas between the mansion, the museum, and the Dryden Theatre have long been reclaimed from the days when they were stables for George Eastman’s horses and a garage for his cars. The $5 million renovation — bolstered by $1.5 million from longtime Eastman Museum supporter Tischer — has relocated the café and gallery shop, and encased the entryway in glass and steel.
click to enlarge New amenities at  the George Eastman Museum include a meeting hall, a gift shop, galleries, and a café, seen here. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE / WXXI NEWS
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE / WXXI NEWS
  • New amenities at the George Eastman Museum include a meeting hall, a gift shop, galleries, and a café, seen here.
“What’s beautiful though, and the reason it is glass, is that you can see through to the original brick wall of George Eastman’s garage,” Kozlowski says.

Museum Director Bruce Barnes acknowledged the difficulties of keeping the arts moving forward. “As we continue to navigate these challenging times,” he told the crowd gathered for Thursday morning’s ribbon cutting, “we strive to make the Eastman Museum a place of respite and discovery for our visitors.”
click to enlarge Thomas Tischer, whose name graces the new visitor center at the George Eastman Museum, speaks at Thursday's dedication of the facility. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE / WXXI NEWS
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE / WXXI NEWS
  • Thomas Tischer, whose name graces the new visitor center at the George Eastman Museum, speaks at Thursday's dedication of the facility.
“I believe in the concept of living buildings,” said Tischer, a retired research chemist at Eastman Kodak and a longtime Greece resident. “Buildings of course are real inanimate things, but they do, and should, evolve with the times, and I think we’ve accomplished that very nicely.”

The collection of Colorama images, which once graced Grand Central Terminal in New York City, was donated to the museum by the Eastman Kodak Company in 2010.

Kozlowski says museum director Bruce Barnes came up with the idea. Not only because the parking lot is large enough to be the new Colorama home, but because it also tidies up the grounds.

“The thing that really prompted that is we have these cooling towers that are for the complex that were quite an eyesore in the parking lot,” Kozlowski says. “And it is one of your first views when you parked your car and made your way to the entrance.”

According to the Eastman Museum, the Colorama displays in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal ran from 1950 until renovations to the terminal in 1990, and was one of Eastman Kodak’s longest-running advertising campaigns. The image on display now in the Eastman Museum parking lot is actually only 80 percent the size of the original backlit transparencies.

With a new image installed in Grand Central Terminal every few weeks, the Colorama displays eventually reached 565 images.

“We have also discussed in the future potentially commissioning works to be put up,” Kozlowski said. “So at the moment we just wanted to create the frame, install the Colorama, and have this first one on display. And then we’ll determine what will be the next one, how often we’ll change them, and when we’ll use work that’s not Coloramas.”

Jeff Spevak is WXXI's arts and life editor and reporter. He can be reached at jspevak@wxxi.org.
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