St. Francis Made of Melted Guns
San Francisco, California
Italian-born sculptor Benny Bufano had a reputation as a pacifist prone to dramatic gestures. In 1915, to protest the likely US entry into World War I, Benny chopped off his trigger finger and mailed it to President Woodrow Wilson.
Or maybe he accidentally cut it off with a saw. But the Giving-Wilson-the-Finger legend is the one that stuck.
Flash forward to the late 1960s. Three of America's leaders lay dead, assassinated. After the 1968 shootings of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr, San Francisco's Mayor Joseph Alioto led a voluntary gun turn-in program that accumulated a conveniently symbolic 1,968 weapons. Bufano, long a Bay Area artist, was tapped to sculpt something with the melted gun metal (he mixed in some bronze so it wouldn't rust in the S.F. Bay dampness).
Bufano sculpted "St. Francis of the Guns," a nearly 9-ft tall figure of a robed Catholic saint, his arms spread in peaceful greeting. On his robe, Benny created a mural showing the glowing heads of four of America's greatest assassinated leaders: Abe Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy and John F. Kennedy. The naive caricatures capture all four with worried frowns.
Bufano had carved St. Francis of Assisi before, but his greatest Francis fantasy, from early in his career, was never realized. He wanted to create a towering St. Francis on horseback, 156-ft of stainless steel, rivaling the Statue of Liberty. It would have been the west coast's welcoming symbol of Peace and Harmony. That WPA era project never got off the ground.
St. Francis of the Guns was cast in 1968; Bufano died in 1970. The statue stands in front of the entrance to the science building of the City College of San Francisco.