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Friday Slide Show: Bufano's Madonna Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

10 November 2017

Beniamino Benvenuto Bufano, sculptor, was not born in America," begins Lois Rather's Bufano and the U.S.A. "He was born in San Fele near Rome, Italy,on October 14, 1898 -- or was it, as his death certificate states, on October 15, 1890? Or in 1909, as he brashly announced at one point?"

Fortunately for San Franciscans, Benny Bufano's work is timeless. And, in Taking a Citywide Census of Benny Bufano Sculptures, Sam Whiting provides an illustrated map of the installations of his work in the city.

Among them you will find:

  • Peace installed on Brotherwood Way after its removal from San Francisco International Airport to make room for an expansion
  • Saint Francis of the Guns at City College made from the melted guns turned in to San Francisco police after the assassination of Robert Kennedy
  • Bear and Cubs on the UCSF campus
  • St. Francis of Assisi at the Longshoreman's Union hiring hall
  • Tombstone the black cat of the Press Club where he lived
  • This granite Madonna with the mosaic of a universal face installed in the Great Meadow at Fort Mason

In his photo book Bufano illustrating the life of the five-foot tall sculptor, his long-time assistant and photographer Randolph Falk explains the mosaic of the universal face at the foot of the statue:

Mosaic inset at base of 60-foot, 12-ton cast granite aggregate statue; completed in June 1970, it was Bufano's last major work depicting peace. The face is in three colors: white, yellow and black (actually dark gray and purple) representing the three races. Bufano frequently used the "universal" face in his mosaics.

We're great fans of Bufano's work from the smooth animal figures children love to throw themselves over to the monumental Madonnas and St. Francises. They have a simplicity that makes them approachable and as timeless as Plato's ideal forms. But they also pack a political punch, celebrating peace and brotherhood.

"Bufano believed if he planned on living forever, he would," Falk writes. Six months before his death, he bought a box of 1,000 surgical masks, which he used (sparingly, Falk says) to keep the dust out of his lungs when polishing his sculptures.

The rule at this point in history seems to be pretty simple. Nobody is pure anything any more.

Time, however, waits for no one. Bufano died of heart failure while working alone in his Minna St. studio on Aug. 18, 1970.

These images were taken with a Micro Four Thirds setup last year at 1 p.m. on April Fool's Day as we walked passed the statue. Earlier today we ran them through Lightroom CC.

But the whole time we were editing these images of Bufano's mother of all children, we were thinking of the PBS series Finding Your Roots, hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Time after time, Gates' research reveals to his guests their surprising mixed heritage. And while DNA testing has upset plenty of white supremacists who discovered they were not white after all, most people are far from troubled by the findings. They're amazed and often charmed.

The rule at this point in history seems to be pretty simple. Nobody is pure anything any more.

So Bufano's universal face is everyone's face. A blessing that refines the species in a way that one day may make racism an unimaginable anachronism.

The great melting pot may turn out not to have been merely an appreciation of different immigrant cultures living side by side but an actual blending of humanity itself.

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