The Niagara Frontier's latest and most colorful history museum is taking shape on the floor of the new Buffalo airport terminal.
Oregon artist Robert E. Calvo and eight workers from De-Spirt Mosaic and Marble Co. of Buffalo are weaving vivid strands chronicling the region's human and natural history in a terrazzo floor the size of three basketball courts.
When the terminal opens Nov. 3, visitors will be treated to descriptions of the region's historic milestones overlaid on a panoramic view of its geography as they cross the main corridor linking the lobby to the gate concourse.
The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is so pleased with the $340,000 project that it is printing brochures for self-guided tours.
Mary Martino, a commissioner of the NFTA and chairwoman of the art committee, also said schools will be invited to learn from the artwork on field trips.
"We felt Robert's design did everything we wanted it to do," she said. "With its topographic map and history of the area, it's an entrance to our region."
Calvo, 48, is a sculptor by training and began specializing in terrazzo floors 10 years ago. They have become a popular form of public art, similar to the murals that decorated government buildings 50 years ago.
The soft-spoken former Texan was supervising the laying out of the zinc molds that hold the terrazzo, a mixture of colored marble chips and glue, as he explained how he came up with his design.
"I looked at maps of the area and noticed the lakes to the southwest and northeast and this isthmus of land," he said. "That geography determined where these events transpired beginning with the Ice Age and continuing to current times.
"Then I used the idea of weaving the (historical) paths together over the Buffalo-Niagara area and making them a tapestry of events as a metaphor for the community."
The decorative lines list milestones in the region's natural, Native American, European, trade and transportation histories, including events such as the War of 1812 and the opening of the Erie Canal.
The eight strands converge over the Niagara River, the centerpiece of the transition theme. There, they will form a bright, interwoven mat before the video monitors where flight information will be listed.
Calvo said the hurried business person at least will notice the abstract pattern underfoot, while less rushed people can study history at their leisure.
The border of the tear-shaped corridor, dubbed the surfboard by the NFTA, will be decorated with stylized human figures borrowed from the design of an Iroquois wampum belt. The local references fit in with the agency's intent to have concessions and other elements of the airport carry a regional flavor.