Perched on an isolated cliff from which it commands spectacularly beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean, the Timber Cove Inn is adorned with a sculpture to match: Benjamino Bufano’s “Peace Obelisk.”
Also known as “Madonna of Peace” and “The Expanding Universe,” the 93-foot sculpture dominates the cliff to such a degree that it’s visible far down the highway and from all nearby beaches and bluffs. The work is made of concrete, mosaic tile, redwood and lead.
Like the majority of the artist’s work, the sculpture portrays streamlined, abstracted figures—in this case, Bufano’s oft-used Madonna and child. However, as is also the case with Bufano, little of what you see is as it appears.
Benjamino Bufano was born sometime around 1890 in San Fele, Italy, moving to New York City with his family at the age of three. He studied at the Art Students League of New York, and in 1915 won a nationwide art competition with a granite/tile/steel sculpture entitled “Peace.”
In many ways, the idea of peace set the tone for Bufano’s outlook on life (he included the word in the titles of many works). He was staunchly anti-war throughout his life, and was considered a radical by most Americans of his day. Shortly after the U. S. entered World War I, Bufano cut off his trigger finger – accidentally, legend says – and mailed it to President Woodrow Wilson as a protest against the war.
Bufano eventually settled in San Francisco, where his streamlined, minimalistic works of people and animals, usually in granite or marble, were very popular in mid-century. Peace continued to be a frequent theme, and it plays a huge role in the sculpture at Timber Cove Inn, which, at about eight stories high and weighing approximately 20 tons, was the largest work Bufano ever created.
Bufano started working on the obelisk in May, 1962, a few months before the Cuban missile crisis galvanized the world. The reality of Soviet and American ballistic missiles poised for global war doubtless influenced the look of the sculpture (which does, indeed, resemble a huge missile).
But Bufano’s missile—decorated as it is with the Madonna and child and topped by a huge open and welcoming hand—is all about peace and world harmony.
It took seven years to complete the Peace Obelisk. A few months later, in August 1970, Bufano died.
Note: You don’t have to be a guest of the Timber Cove Inn to get a close-up view of Bufano’s sculpture. Just park in the gravel lot north of the inn and follow the short path leading back to the obelisk.