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Viewfinder: The Bufano Bears of Crocker Park

Bears were one of San Francisco sculptor Beniamino “Benny” Bufano's favorite subjects. This example of his work, a bear with her two cubs, sits in Piedmont's Crocker Park. Another Bufano bear was discovered abandoned at a sewage treatment plant.

The City of Piedmont's official description of calls it "a manicured jewel on just an acre of land, which features a shaded lawn area and beds of rhododendrons, camellias and ferns." It also features this sculpture of a mother bear with her twin cubs, the work of beloved San Francisco artist Beniamino “Benny” Bufano.

Bears were favorites subjects for Bufano, and several similar sculptures exist, including ones at the Oakland Museum of California and at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Fremont. They are mostly made of granite or cast concrete, but there's a bit of uncertainty about the Piedmont bears. The city says the sculpture is granite, while the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture database identifies it as black marble.

Perhaps Bufano's most elusive bear is one he created while a supervisor for the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Depression that went missing when the project was abandoned during World War II. More than a decade later, Bufano located it atop a sand dune at a San Francisco sewage treatment plant. (See a photo of Bufano with his "lost" bear in this article from the San Francisco Public Library.)

Bufano (1890-1970) was born in Italy but is identified most closely with San Francisco, where he spent most of his adult life. He's best known for his "Peace" and animal sculptures, but also created some nudes.

Individual Bufano sculptures are scattered throughout Northern California and other parts of the country, with a collection at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, MD.

In the Bay Area, there are collections at the Oakland Museum of California, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), the Valencia Gardens Housing Project in San Francisco and the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville.

The Piedmont bears, a gift to the city, were installed at Crocker Park in 1979. The contributed funds for the base. The park itself is located on property that was once the home of Wallace Alexander, one of the city's founding fathers. Dogs are allowed but must be kept on leash.

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