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Bufano Brilliance

May 28th 2012



In the summer of 1962, when Richard Clements had just set his sights on 800 acres north of Fort Ross for homesite development and a stone and redwood inn overlooking the ocean, world famous sculptor Beniamino Bufano began work on an eight-story statue — the largest he'd ever done.

It would be incorrect to say that Clements commissioned the Bufano work. That's not the way the diminutive artist chose to work. He always worked without pay, repeatedly said that he didn't like to deal in money and, quite literally, "lived on his laurels" and the kindnesses of his friends. Bufano was one of a kind.
As a young man he had protested America's entry into World War I by cutting off his trigger finger and mailing it to President Woodrow Wilson. The act created considerable interest. Much of the material — redwood, metal and mosaic — for the sculpture he first called "The Expanding Universe" and later changed to "Madonna of Peace" was donated by Bay Area companies and by the Clements organization. While at work on it, Bufano lived as a guest of owner Joe Panic at the Gualala Hotel and labored in a workshop set up for him at the rear of the landmark hostelry. When he began the work in May, he announced his intention to finish before the first rains of winter. His prediction was overly optimistic. It was seven years — October of 1969 — before the last piece of the 70-foot, 20-ton sculpture was in place. Progress was first slowed by Bufano's heart attack and later by the difficulties in lifting the 6,000-pound head and 2,000-pound hand into place on the tower.
A special crane was brought up the narrow coast highway to hoist the head which was too heavy for a helicopter to lift. The Madonna of Peace, or Expanding Universe, was donated by the property owners to the State Parks Department in 1980 — along with a trail easement to the headland site.

There is another Bufano sculpture, Shadows of the Future, in the courtyard of the Sonoma County Public Library in Santa Rosa. By 1968, the sculptor had changed his policy about money. Library director David Sabsay says he paid him $5,000 for the art work. The shift in philosophy was not without cause. Bufano had returned from several years of work in Italy with a number of marble pieces which the shipping company was holding for payment. In 1970, just months after the Timber Cove statue was completed, Bufano died