Born, Beniamino Bufano, in San Fele, Italy, in 1886, he was one of sixteen children. His family immigrated to New York when he was three, and at six he began contributing to the family income by shining shoes and peddling newspapers. He dropped out of school after the third grade, but entered art school as a teenager, working there as a janitor in lieu of tuition. Later he became apprenticed with the sculptor James Frasier, while he continued to work as a janitor.
In 1915, a fellow sculptor, who’d been selected to create works for the Panama Pacific International Exposition, offered Benny a job as his assistant. Once in San Francisco, Benny’s talents were recognized, and he began receiving regular and lucrative commissions. Saint Francis is the patron saint of San Francisco. Born Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone; 1181/1182 – October 3, 1226, Saint Francis was an Italian Catholic friar and preacher. He founded the men’s Franciscan Order, the women’s Order of St. Clare, and the lay Third Order of Saint Francis. St. Francis is one of the most venerated religious figures in history. The statue was brought to Fisherman’s wharf to stand a few yards from the Longshoremen’s Memorial Building honoring famed unionist Harry Bridges.
The statue stands 18 feet tall and weights 12.5 tons. In 1928, while the statue was being exhibited in Paris, where Bufano sculpted it, the late English art Critic Roger Fry wrote that is was “the most significant piece of sculpture done within 500 years.” The statue was brought to San Francisco in 1955 through the efforts of Bufano’s close friend Paul Verdier, owner of the City of Paris department store, mayor Elmer Robinson and the French government. San Francisco is lucky to have many of Bufano’s pieces scattered throughout the city, here are a few others.