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COMMENTARY

A monumental image: Lasting impression of Hizzoner, amid the snow

Sean Kirst

Buffalo News photographer Mark Mulville almost did not get out of his car. He was driving around downtown during Wednesday's blizzard, looking for striking images amid the snow and blinding wind, when he paused at the corner of Swan and Washington streets.

Photographers often capture images of statues in snowstorms, once piles of snow add fantastic details to their appearance. The driving force of this blizzard had a memorable effect on monuments throughout the city, and Mulville caught it with particular drama in the likeness of Jimmy Griffin, the late mayor of Buffalo, whose monument stands in a plaza named in the mayor's honor near the gates of Sahlen Field.

Mulville had photographed the statue many times, and he was reluctant to simply repeat a familiar shot. He rolled down his window and prepared to take a quick photo from his car. But he studied the scene and thought again, seeing something he had never seen before. He climbed out to capture an image that provides a memorable statement on the storm.

Many people remarked on the result, and I decided to ask Mulville how it came to be. One reader, Joe Saeli of the Town of Tonawanda, offered an especially passionate take.

He said the statue always reminds him of how Griffin was a key force behind the stadium. Whenever Saeli drives past, he thinks about the time he met the mayor in a bar on South Park Avenue. Griffin walked in, knew all the regulars in the place, looked at Saeli – the guy he did not know – and said, "Let me buy you a beer."

So when Saeli saw Mulville's photo of the statue in the storm, he immediately saw it as emblematic of Griffin's famous line in 1985 about grabbing a six-pack and staying home to watch a football game.

"I looked at that picture," Saeli said, "and I thought: This is Buffalo."

PHOTO GALLERY: Blizzard of January 2019

The image had a similar impact on Bill Koch, the sculptor. His statue of Griffin, unveiled in 2012, recalls the moment when the left-handed mayor threw out the first pitch at the ballpark. Koch said Mulville's shot is one of his favorite photos of the monument, because the blasting force of the blizzard adds a lonely power Koch describes as "iconic."

His original mission was capturing the kind of raw tenacity Griffin brought to politics and the civic arena. Every sculptor hopes to send a message, and Koch – an artist who does granite stonework for Stone Art Memorial Co., a family business in Lackawanna – said the blizzard, coupled with some nearby trees, allowed his statue to make a much larger point.

"Those trees, they create a cathedral-like feeling," Koch said. "The mayor's pose, it definitely takes on something that goes beyond just the baseball thing. It becomes about the grit of Buffalo, about someone going against the odds."

Even the statue of Tim Horton at Canalside appears to be shoveling snow during the storm that hammered Buffalo this week. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

The storm had a similar effect on the statue of Tim Horton at Canalside, the work of sculptor Jerry McKenna of Texas. Photographer Derek Gee captured an image of the monument, utterly alone in the teeth of the storm, which caused McKenna to reflect on the last time he saw the statue, erected in 2014.

McKenna said he visited about two years ago, in the summer, on a day when the sun was so brilliant that the statue was almost too hot to touch. The snow, he said, turned it into something "very ghostly," into a piece of art that "gives one the creeps with all that snow and lighting."

As for our weather, McKenna said no thanks.

"I get cold," he said, "just looking at that photo."

– Sean Kirst

 

 

 

 

 

 

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