The stone animals in the Bufano Sculpture Garden on the Homewood campus of The Johns Hopkins University 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 smooth condition.
"There will always be evidence that these repairs are made of replacement material," said Rob Saarnio, who as curator of university collections and director of the university's historic houses 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 campus.
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 and Horse. 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 tiny hibachi."
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. 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 the Johns 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 original noggin.
To speak with Saarnio, contact Amy Cowles at 443-287-9900. Digital photos of Saarnio and the sculptures are available upon request.
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