Beniamino Bufano (October 15, 1890? – August 18, 1970) was a California-based Italian American sculptor, best known for his large-scale monuments representing peace. His modernist work often featured smoothly rounded animals and relatively simple shapes. He worked in ceramics, stone, stainless steel, and mosaic, and sometimes combined two or more of these media. Some of his works are cast stone replicas. He sometimes went by the name Benvenuto Bufano because he admired Benvenuto Cellini. His youthful nickname was "Bene," which was often anglicized into "Benny." He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in November 1938.
Bufano was born in San Fele, Italy. He came to New York with his mother and 11 siblings in 1902. There is considerable question about his date of birth. In fact, it is difficult to establish the truth about many of the stories about his life. A 1972 biography by Sonia Brown and Howard Wilkening is based on interviews with the artist and extensive research but is not conclusive. As the artist admitted, "I just told each person not only what I thought he wanted to hear, but I related it in the way I thought appropriate for him." Another biography was published by his ex-wife Virginia ten years after his death and includes many stories she would have heard from him. As she wrote, "Benny revived lying, made it an art and a way of life, a way to get along in a cockeyed world. Yet lying is a misleading word to explain the thought processes of the little artist. If he lied, he was not aware of being dishonest--he was nonmoral, like a child." The only biography with footnotes is the limited-edition volume by Lois Rather published in 1975 and focusing on Bufano's dealings with the federal government.
He evidently studied at the Art Students League of New York during 1913–15 with the famous sculptors Herbert Adams, Paul Manship, and James Earle Fraser and assisted them with their work. He also assisted Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney at her home studio in Roslyn, New York in about 1913.
In the fall of 1914, Paul Manship invited Bufano to work with Robert Treat Paine on a commission Manship had received for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Bufano rented a room in San Francisco's Chinatown, made some friends there, and became fascinated with Chinese art. He was given additional sculpture projects at the exposition, panels for the Arches of Triumph and a festoon over the main door of the Palace of Fine Arts.
After returning to New York in 1915, Bufano entered a nationwide art competition and exhibit on the theme "The Immigrant in America". Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney funded the contest, and the exhibit was held in the Whitney Studio Club at 8 West 8th Street in Greenwich Village, which Whitney established to exhibit the work of young artists. The Immigrants in America Review administered the contest. Frances Kellor, who had been top committeewoman in former President Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Party, headed the Review. Roosevelt visited the exhibit of the 100 works entered in the contest, which added to its prestige and the acclaim of its prize winners. Bufano, then a virtual unknown, won the first prize of $500 with a sculpture in tile, granite and steel entitled Peace. Bufano's theme contrasted with most of the entries, which focused on the immigrants' struggle for survival in their new homeland. The New York Times reported on Roosevelt's visit to the exhibit. Roosevelt used the occasion to inveigh against cubist art, but singled out "Bennie" Bufano's prize-winning sculpture for praise. "Wonderful work", he exclaimed to the Times, "I should like to meet the sculptor."
Shortly after the United States entered World War I in 1917, Bufano accidentally cut off half of his right index finger. He decided to mail the "trigger finger" to President Woodrow Wilson as a protest against the war. He allowed a legend to develop that he had intentionally severed the finger for this purpose.
Later in 1917 he returned to California and rented a studio in Pasadena, where he sculpted portrait heads and took philosophy classes. But he decided San Francisco was where he most wanted to live, and it became his home base for the rest of his life, although he would travel extensively.
In 1918 he met Sara Bard Field and Charles Erskine Scott Wood, who became important patrons of his work. They provided him with a studio, commissioned sculptures, and funded a trip to China for the artist to study glazes. Albert M. Bender was another early patron who helped Bufano financially and acquired works by the artist that he donated to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. A portrait head of Bender by Bufano is also in the museum collection.
Bufano traveled to China in 1920, encountering the poet Witter Bynner and working on a portrait head of Bynner en route. He apprenticed himself to a master potter to learn about glazes, as planned, but he extended his stay and traveled around the country, meeting Sun Yat-sen and John Dewey. Although he said he spent much of the journey living in poverty, he returned after about two years with a valuable collection of Chinese art.
He was hired to teach at the California School of Fine Arts in 1923, but had too many disagreements with the administration about how art should be taught and was dismissed at the end of the semester. He proceeded to open his own art school, the Da Vinci Art School, in the Hawaiian Building on the 1915 exposition grounds, but it closed within months. Around this time he created some site-specific art for the country home of Wood and Field in Los Gatos, California.
In 1925 Bufano had a solo show at the Arden Galleries in New York City, he was featured in International Studio magazine, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired his ceramic sculpture Honeymoon Couple. That year he also met Virginia Howard in San Francisco, fell in love, followed her when she went to Louisiana, and married her in Texas. They spent a few weeks in Pasadena and then embarked on a trip around the world, visiting Japan, China, Southeast Asia, and India, then Italy and France. By the time they arrived in France the marriage was failing, and when she became pregnant, he sent her home to California. The baby was born on August 16, 1928, and Virginia named him Erskine Scott Bufano after their benefactor Charles Erskine Scott Wood. She learned that her husband had earlier had a common-law wife named Marie and a daughter named Aloha. She divorced him in 1932.
Bufano spent close to four years in France, where he bought a large block of stone and carved a statue of St. Francis of Assisi, which he intended as a gift to the city of San Francisco. Once it was finished, the Depression was underway, aesthetic objections were raised by San Franciscans who saw photographs of the work, and it took more than two decades before enough money was raised to ship it to California.
Back in San Francisco during the 1930s, he received studio space, a salary, and assistants through the Federal Art Project. He created several animal sculptures for the new Aquatic Park. He also made drawings and models for a 156-foot-tall St. Francis to sit on top of a high hill. It was approved by the city art commission, but it became an object of controversy and ridicule and was never erected. He was commissioned to design a block-long sculptural frieze of athletes for George Washington High School in San Francisco, but then was accused of including likenesses of Joseph Stalin and Harry Bridges. He denied this charge but lost the commission, ostensibly on the grounds that he was taking too long and kept changing the design. He received another federal job in 1940, head of the art division of the National Youth Administration for San Francisco.
Bufano served on the San Francisco Art Commission from 1944 to 1948. A long-term friendship with author and painter Henry Miller began during this time; Miller would advocate on Bufano's behalf and wrote an introduction to a 1968 book on the artist. In 1950 Bufano created a large mosaic project for Moar's Cafeteria in San Francisco (removed in the 1970s for BART construction).
Bufano continued to create art and to be seen as a colorful local character until his death from heart disease in 1970. In his will he disinherited his daughter Aloha and did not mention his son Erskine, leaving everything to an entity he and patron friends had established called the Bufano Society of the Arts. Erskine successfully contested the will and became the head of the society; he died in 2010.
Examples of his distinctive and large-scale work are found throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Some of his best-known works are bullet-shaped monuments, including the first sculpture in stainless steel, a statue of Chinese leader Sun Yat-sen in St. Mary's Square, San Francisco; the 93-foot (28 m) Peace or The Expanding Universe in coastal Timber Cove near Jenner, California; the 30-foot Peace, which was after nearly four decades at San Francisco International Airport relocated near Lake Merced in 1996; the Madonna at Fort Mason); and the Madonna at San Francisco General Hospital.
Animal groups include Bear and Cubs sculptures outside the Oakland Museum of California and Kaiser Permanente in Fremont, CA; Penguin's Prayer, originally for the Golden Gate International Exposition; and several works at Hillsdale Shopping Center in San Mateo.
The 18-foot statue of St. Francis, carved by Bufano in France in the late 1920s, finally came to San Francisco in 1955 and stands at Beach and Taylor Streets. Saint Francis of the Guns of 1968 at San Francisco City College is a statue of Saint Francis of Assisi—San Francisco's namesake—made from melted-down guns mixed with bronze to prevent rust from the city's dampness; this work was inspired by that year's assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.
- Rather, Lois (1975). Bufano and the U.S.A.. Oakland, Calif.: Rather Press.
- "Missiles of Peace: Benny Bufano's Message to the World, California History, March 22, 2007". Thefreelibrary.com. Retrieved 2013-07-29. The date shown here is what appears on his death certificate, and the year makes more sense than the commonly published 1898.
- Wilkening, H. and Sonia Brown (1972). Bufano: An Intimate Biography. Berkeley, CA: Howell-North Books. ISBN 0831070897.
- Lewin, Virginia B. (1980). One of Benny's Faces: A Study of Beniamino Bufano (1886-1970), the Man Behind the Artist. Hicksville, NY: Exposition Press. ISBN 0682494844.
- Berman, Avis (1990). Rebels on Eighth Street: Juliana Force and the Whitney Museum of American Art. New York: Atheneum. p. 118. ISBN 978-0-689-12086-2.
- "East Side Sculptor Wins Exhibit Prize". The New York Times. November 13, 1915.
- "Colonel's Big Stick Batters Cubist Art". The New York Times. December 3, 1915. p. 11.
- "Sara Bard Field: Poet and Suffragist". Regional Oral History Office, Bancroft Library, University of California oac.cdlib.org. Retrieved 2013-07-29.
- Poletti, Therese (2008). Art Deco San Francisco: The Architecture of Timothy Pflueger. New York: Princeton Architectural Press. p. 148. ISBN 9781568987569.
- Bufano: Sculpture, Mosaics, Drawings. Tokyo: John Weatherhill, Inc. n.d. (c. 1968). OCLC 316602. Published for the Bufano Society of the Arts, San Francisco; 115 color and 8 black-and-white illustrations.
- Discovery: Benny Bufano 1953 KPIX-TV and the San Francisco Museum of Art present a program in the 'Discovery' series about Bufano's work in San Francisco
- USA. "Bufano’s Obelisk". Timber Cove Inn. Retrieved 2013-07-29.
- "(Madonna) - San Francisco, CA - Smithsonian Art Inventory Sculptures on". Waymarking.com. Retrieved 2013-07-29.
- "Art and Architecture – San Francisco". Retrieved 2013-11-27..
- ""Benny Bufano at Fisherman's Wharf," Art and Architecture San Francisco". Retrieved 2013-11-26.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Benny Bufano.|
- UC Berkeley Living New Deal Bufano page
- "Shopping Can Be Fun" - A 1957 promotional film for Hillsdale shopping center, featuring several of his works as well as a short segment showing him at work on a large redwood owl.
- George Rathnell, "Beniamino Bufano," Nob Hill Gazette, July 2009. A survey of Bufano's life and his sculptures in the San Francisco Bay Area
- Photographs of Bufano's work in San Francisco
- The Art of Bufano, a group at Flickr
- The Mosaics of Benny Bufano
- SFO's Peace at its current location