Visualizing Birth through Benny Bufano’s “Madonna”

Madonna, concrete sculpture with mosaic
Copyright 1962, Beniamino “Benny” Bufano, All Rights reserved.
Photo, Copyright 2022, Anna Hennessey, All Rights reserved.

On several walks to San Francisco’s Fort Mason, my family and I have come across this impressive sculpture of mother and child, which is located in the Great Meadow. The work, created as part of Italian American Sculptor Beniamino “Benny” Bufano’s Peace sculptures, which are found throughout San Francisco, stands tall at 14 feet on the hill overlooking the field. 

When I first saw the sculpture, it looked like a representation of birth to me. The image of the child at the base of the sculpture appeared to emerge from the Madonna figure. However, the sculpture, which is actually part of a series of works that Bufano made during the Cold War period, represents a mother and child encased in a missile-like structure. Bufano described the mosaic of the child as “a composite figure of all the races” (fn 67).

In a 2007 article on California History published by the University of California Press, Senior State Archaeologist E. Breck Parkman explains how Bufano traveled to the Soviet Union in an attempt to create a large peace statue for the USSR. Although he was unable to create the work there, he created several in San Francisco and the the Bay Area. As cited by Parkman, at the time, Bufano explained his reasons for creating the Peace sculptures:

I sculptured “Peace” in the form of a projectile, to express the idea that if peace is to be preserved today it must be enforced peace–enforced by the democracies against Fascist barbarism. Modern warfare, which involves the bombing of women and children, has no counterpart in a peace interpreted by the conventional motif of olive branches and doves.

For the contemporary pregnant viewer, Bufano’s Madonna sculpture provides for a serene and contemplative image of mothering and birth. To use this image in the visualization of birth, pregnant women (and/or other pregnant people) may look at the calm face of the Madonna as she rests in the green of the grass and trees. The child resting on her body seems to emerge peacefully from an arched cavern at her base. She is both one with her child and also separate in a soothing way from the child.  

More about Bufano’s interesting life and work may be found on Wikipedia and in a number of other websites available online.