Skip to main content

By Colin Dabkowski | Published Thu, Jan 4, 2018 | Buffalo News

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

The Spirit of Community, the latest in a series of five sculptures funded by the Buffalo Renaissance Foundation, was designed by Buffalo artist Daniel 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 lobby of Hotel Henry. Its curves and relative transparency serve as counterpoints to the sandstone blocks and green copper roofs of HH 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, and 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 made of a type 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, and 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 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 budget and installation process.

“With the renaissance going on in Buffalo right now, it’s really fitting to have a sculpture that celebrates the 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 advise on Shafer’s art, but praised the sculpture’s suitability for the site and its contribution to the “Spirit of Buffalo” series.

“I think it adds to the renaissance of the whole building,” said founder Tom O’Brien. “It’s a beautiful entrance and it’s sure 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,” and the 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 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 is a lot of things happening in politics, this sculpture is not about that, it’s just a pure representation of our community, of our past, present and future, of our three centuries as a city.”