The stone animals in the Homewood campus's Bufano
Sculpture Garden can't talk, but if they could, they would
certainly chirp, bray and whinny a chorus of thank-yous to
the university for hiring a team of conservators to restore
the fold this fall.
The $21,000 project, executed over a 10-day period,
repaired, and in some cases replaced, the creatures' chipped
or missing ears, muzzles and antennae, bringing the
collection as close as possible to its original stout and
"There will always be evidence that these repairs are
made of replacement material," said Rob Saarnio, who as
curator of university collections is shepherd of the Bufano
flock. "But it's safe to say that the university is very
pleased with the results of the restoration."
The animals are installed along a tree-lined brick
pathway en route to the
Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy. Adjacent to
the Ralph S.
O'Connor Recreation Center, the mini-park is receiving
some TLC in the form of lighting and landscaping under the
umbrella of an open space improvement plan known as Great Excavations. Funded by an anonymous
donor, Great Excavations has been beautifying the campus
brick by brick since the summer of 2000. Its goal is to make
the core areas of Homewood safer, more pedestrian-friendly
and more attractive by diverting traffic to the perimeter of
As the work to revamp the walkways progressed across
campus and reached the Bufano garden, Lawrence Kilduff,
executive director of facilities management at Homewood, and
senior project manager Frances Hammar approached Saarnio
about using some of the donor's funds to restore the
sculptures, which had been vandalized years ago. Because the
goal is to improve on the existing gardens, it didn't make
sense, they said, to address the walkway, lighting,
landscaping and benches and not attend to the sculptures.
Saarnio, who is also director of the university's historic houses, picked up where
his predecessor, Cindy Kelly, had left off in her research
on restoring the sculptures.
The animals are the handiwork of Italian-born sculptor
Beniamino Bufano (1898-1970), who studied at the Art
Students League in New York and settled in San Francisco to
sculpt and teach. The sculptures were dedicated to Johns
Hopkins in 1983, when Bufano's son, Erskine, organized a
group donation by various collectors. The goal was to have
his father's work gain in stature on the East Coast, and he
believed a major university like Johns Hopkins would provide
that visibility, Saarnio said. The Bufano collection at
Homewood includes Bactrian Camel, Bear and Cubs, Dromedary
Camel, Snail, Ram, Elephant, Penguin, Penguins Praying, Cat
The playful presence of the sculptures, some of which
are replicas of other Bufano pieces in and around San
Francisco, adds a valuable touch of whimsy to a campus with
a reputation for being buttoned-up.
"They are just a breath of fresh air," said Wendy
Brody, wife of university President
William R. Brody and a big fan of the pieces. "They're
just so endearing."
The grove has become a routine stop for many members of
the community, contributing to the atmosphere of the campus,
Brody said. "Visitors, particularly little kids, love the
sculptures," she said. "Lots of people walk through there,
and when the weather is nice, I've seen groups of students
in the gazebo grilling as many burgers as they can fit on a
The Bufano creatures are particularly endearing to the
Brodys, both natives of the San Francisco area where
Bufano's work is well-known, Wendy Brody said. The couple
also spent several years on the campus of Stanford
University, where Bufano's artwork is included in the
outdoor sculpture collection. So when a proposal was made
three years ago to move Hopkins' collection to Evergreen
House in an effort to better preserve the pieces, the Brodys
asked that one sculpture be transplanted to the backyard
garden at Nichols House, the president's on-campus
The Brodys selected Penguins Praying, a red-beaked
charcoal gray adult penguin with two red penguin chicks.
Though the plan to relocate the sculptures was scuttled in
favor of keeping the playful pieces at Homewood, Penguins
Praying remains in its new home behind the president's
"We're pleased they stayed on campus," Wendy Brody
said. "They would have been a little more protected at
Evergreen House, but there would have been limited access.
And that's why we really wanted to keep them here."
The restoration began in late October, when conservator
Steven Tatti and two assistants arrived on campus from New
York. Using old photos of the pieces as a guide, molds were
made on-site and the "formwork" attached where errant ears,
horns and beaks once were. A replacement material of granite
and marble chips embedded in a cementitious matrix was then
poured in. After the material cured, the forms were removed
to reveal the new shape. Plenty of buffing and polishing
made the animals whole again.
Though Tatti was able to blend the new molded and cast
stone seamlessly into the old, it was impossible to make an
exact color match between the materials, Saarnio said.
Running his finger along the variations in whiteness between
a new pair of antennae on the body of a snail crafted years
ago, Saarnio said, "These colors will never be exactly the
same. But the color of the antennae will darken and get
closer in color to the rest of the snail in time."
All the works, even those not repaired, have been
cleaned top to bottom, making the whole ensemble look
spiffier than it has in years.
Meanwhile, one piece of Hopkins' collection of Bufano
sculptures is still waiting for rebirth. A small penguin is
in need of a new head, which he will get as soon as Saarnio
and company can gather enough photographic evidence to
ensure a proper and authentic restoration of the bird's