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Richardson Olmsted Campus unveils 'Spirit of Community' sculpture

Buffalo's first major public artwork of the new year debuted Wednesday at the Richardson Olmsted Complex, adding a contemporary grace note to one of the city's most imposing historic buildings.

"Spirit of Community," the latest in a series of five sculptures funded by the Buffalo Renaissance Foundation, was designed by Buffalo artist Dániel Shafer. A crew of masons and steel workers installed the piece over the course of two weeks in December.

The piece features three swooping steel rings fused together at a central point facing the glass-enclosed vestibule of Hotel Henry. Its curves and relative transparency serve as counterpoints to the sandstone blocks and green copper roofs of H.H. Richardson's famous towers. And its ruddy color, which will continue to accumulate for about six months before the oxidation process stops, mirrors the red sandstone of the buildings.

"The three rings are the past, present and future of Buffalo," said Shafer, a Buffalo native and University at Buffalo graduate who moved back to Buffalo last June after stints in Houston, Tokyo and Europe. "Also, the three rings could represent the three centuries of Buffalo, and the fact that we're all connected, not just time-wise, but as a community."

The piece, which weighs about 3,400 pounds, is fabricated from a kind of corrosion-resistant structural steel called COR-TEN, which is designed to oxidize evenly and requires little to no maintenance. Shafer and his Denver, Colo.-based fabricators produced it for a budget of about $60,000, a small sum for a 20-by-20-foot sculpture that required a complicated installation process.

Buffalo Renaissance Foundation member and local developer Jake Schneider said that Shafer's minimalist concept came from a field of 15 proposals. Schneider said the committee chose Shafer's idea for its conceptual strength as well as its practicality, both in terms of the budget and the installation process.

Daniel Shafer stands with his sculpture "Spirit of Community" outside Hotel Henry at the Richardson Olmsted Complex.
(Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

"With the renaissances going on in Buffalo right now, it's really fitting to have a sculpture that celebrates community," Schneider said. "He pushed the envelope on this because we had budget constraints. Something that's that dynamic and that size, structurally, is a tough thing to pull off well, and he did it."

Other Buffalo Renaissance Foundation members were reluctant to proffer opinions on Shafer's artistry, but praised the sculpture's appropriateness for the site and its contribution to the "Spirit of Buffalo" series.

"I think it adds to the renaissance of the whole building," said foundation member Tom O'Brien. "It's a beautiful entrance and it's certainly to scale."

Other sculptures in the series include "Spirit of Life" by Valeria Cray-Dihaan on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, "Spirit of Transportation" by Sarah Fonzi on Swan Street and "Spirit of Leadership," a bronze sculpture of Theodore Roosevelt at the Roosevelt Inaugural Site on Delaware Avenue. Planning for a fifth sculpture in a plaza near the Central Library is underway.

For Shafer, who trained under the Hungarian artist Sándor Végh and has produced oil painting and figurative bronze sculpture, the piece was a step outside his comfort zone.

"Most of my work has been reactionary," Shafer told a crowd gathered inside the hotel on Wednesday. "There's a lot of things happening in politics. This sculpture is not about that. This is just a pure representation of our community, of our past, present and future, of our three centuries as a city."


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