Historically, studies of early 20th-century Pueblo painting focused on the role non-Native anthropologists, artists and patrons played in fostering and marketing Pueblo art. In the last two decades, there has been a shift in approach spearheaded by scholars in the…
Butter to Bronze: Sharon BuMann’s ’84 Life, Artistic Vision Shaped by Syracuse University
The next time you spread a pat of butter on toast, smile and give a nod to local artist and sculptor Sharon BuMann ‘84. Over many years, the College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) alumna used the malleable, edible element to form numerous beloved sculptures commissioned by the New York State Fair.
Driving around Syracuse, keep your eye out for mammoth figures chiseled in bronze or other hearty materials. BuMann’s expert, compassionate hands have either restored existing pieces or created new works to reflect the city’s rich history.
On Oct. 25, Syracuse Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens presided over a proclamation ceremony at the Jerry Rescue Monument in Clinton Square to honor BuMann in recognition of her lifetime achievements and contributions to the Central New York community.
From Butter to Bronze
The creator of many of Syracuse’s best-known pieces of public art, Sharon earned a bachelor’s degree in fine art from VPA and administered through the College of Professional Studies. Previously, she had earned an associate degree in graphic arts from Onondaga Community College. She’s also pursued post-graduate study at the Lyme Academy and the University of Hartford in Connecticut.
Almost 40 years after graduating from Syracuse, “Sharon BuMann Day” was proclaimed by the City of Syracuse in October. The timing aligned with the anniversary of the Jerry Rescue Monument, which commemorates the rescue of fugitive slave William “Jerry” Henry when citizens of Syracuse stormed his jail cell in 1851 and helped him escape to freedom in defiance of the Fugitive Slave Act.
BuMann has deep family and artistic roots in Central New York, having been raised in Central Square, just north of Syracuse near Oneida Lake. Her grandmother, also an artist, gave 11-year-old BuMann her first sketchbook. Years later, BuMann designed and created the Jerry Rescue Monument.
Among other works in Syracuse, she also created the Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten statue on the city’s southside, honoring the world-renowned folk and blues singer from North Carolina who decided to live out her days in the city. BuMann also formed the Mountain Goat Monument in Upper Onondaga Park celebrating the annual 10-mile run, and was involved in the exterior structural design of the Onondaga County War Memorial that pays tribute to veterans in Syracuse and around the world, for which she and her team received the ACI Grand Award of Excellence.
Artistic Values and Virtues
In addition to creating her artistic works, BuMann and her husband raised two children: Amy, a healthcare professional, and George, also a sculptor. George earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental and forest biology from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and a master’s degree in wildlife science from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
Attending the ceremony, George discussed the values and virtues his mom created throughout her career. “As much of what my mother modeled through her work speaks to liberty, equality, women’s suffrage, and abolitionism, she also wove these elements among her everyday life,” George said. “These still live in the bricks and mortar of the Jerry Rescue monument and other works, but my mother’s ‘invisible moments’ have become cherished memories for those who’ve been able to work with her or share her company.”
Inclusivity and Diversity
“Inclusivity has always been a central part of my mother’s philosophy, her career, and our family. My sister and I absorbed many of these lessons passively without realizing them, often around the dinner table that served as the impromptu story time for our family. Not until years later would we understand how fortunate we were, as our world did not distinguish between people based upon color, creed or any other orientation. This came with the implicit understanding that we are infinitely more productive, creative and resilient when we work together as one,” George said during the ceremony.
BuMann’s Syracuse University journey started as a student and continued as an art instructor in VPA. Michael Frasciello, dean of the College of Professional Studies, mentioned that BuMann’s outlook about life and relationships aligned perfectly with the philosophy of the University and the College of Professional Studies.
“We strive to provide access to the university experience to all people to expand the thinking, understanding and respect we need to survive — and thrive — locally and globally,” Frasciello says.
Community Partnerships to Create Art
BuMann has worked diligently to share her artistic vision in Syracuse and across the country, crediting many individuals with her success as a prolific contributor to the Central New York landscape: Syracuse University faculty and administrative leadership; those in local government who’ve seen the value of the public art scene; and community volunteers and cheerleaders, including John Marsellus and Chet Whiteside, who paved the way for many of the projects that reflect her creative spirit.
Throughout the years, she has continually attended workshops and prides herself on the vast amount of independent study and research that informs her work. “Life-long learning is a philosophy I live by,” BuMann says in keeping with the mission of the College of Professional Studies.
While BuMann is enjoying life at a more relaxed pace, art and sculpture remain part of her daily existence. “My dream and my choice have been, from a very young age, to work as a professional artist,” she says.
The Syracuse University-trained, Central New York native holds the Guinness World Record for the largest butter sculpture ever assembled, a model of Big Tex, an icon of the Texas State Fair, that was displayed at that venue weighing in at 4,077 pounds. As monumental as this task may seem, BuMann sums it up simply: “I just love what I do.”
Story by Cheryl Abrams