About The Gazette Search Back Issues Contact Us    
The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University December 8, 2003 | Vol. 33 No. 14
Whimsical Sculpture Garden Spruced Up

Rob Saarnio, curator of university collections, is shepherd of the Bufano flock.

Bufano animal flock is restored; new plantings and walkways to come

By Amy Cowles

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 smooth condition.

"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 campus.

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 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 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 residence.

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 residence.

"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 original noggin.


The Gazette | The Johns Hopkins University | Suite 540 | 901 S. Bond St. | Baltimore, MD 21231 | 443-287-9900 |