A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

Acclaimed local artist’s “A Prayer for the Earth” undergoes restoration

John Greenwood
Michael McGinnis and Laura Bacon stand in Analy Hall with the local artist Bruce Johnson’s world-renowned sculpture, “A Prayer For The Earth,” which awaits restoration.

A world-renowned art piece, “A Prayer For The Earth,” created by local artist Bruce Johnson is to be restored to its former glory at Santa Rosa Junior College.

Johnson originally donated the piece to SRJC in 1999. World Cultures Garden Club Faculty Advisor Gino Muzzatti remembers the sculpture as the centerpiece for the former World Cultures Garden, which was located in the Math Courtyard by Barnet Hall before both were demolished to make way for the new Southwest Center.

Muzzatti remembers loading the gargantuan piece of art onto a truck at Johnson’s studio in Timber Cove. “Myself, along with other advocates for the Garden, Lorin Leith and Nina Rosen, wondered ‘how will we get this thing in the back of the truck?’ and, furthermore, ‘how would we manhandle it into position at the JC?’ My back was hurtin’!” Muzzatti said.

SRJC associate faculty member, Michael McGinnis, and student, Laura Bacon, will oversee the delicate project, with input from Kendra Katz, Johnson’s daughter.

Like most of Johnson’s work, “A Prayer for the Earth” is a hefty piece of redwood. Johnson was one of only two artists to produce major pieces of art from redwood, because of the painstaking work required to move it and also to place all the thin and meticulous copper sheets cut into shapes cladding the pieces.

Being one of Johnson’s earlier pieces of work, the artpiece stood outside for years, and the elements took their toll on it. The copper decayed and water leaked in, which damaged it from the inside, requiring the copper cladding to be replaced in order to save and restore the piece. Bruce Johnson was still quite active when he met an untimely death at age 75 in March 2023. A tragic accident at his studio left the art world and the local population that knew him stunned. 

A close and respected friend of many at SRJC, Johnson grew up in the Bay Area and studied at UC Davis in the ’60s. He gained International success with his large-scale pieces of salvaged redwood that he first recycled from the Eel River area after the terrible Hundred Year flood in 1964. The flood ensured there was more or less an endless supply of fallen and uprooted redwood material for Johnson to work with after it retreated. 

Johnson described his large-scale heavy pieces of work as between Shinto and Stonehenge. His sculptures have been shipped around the world to destinations as far as Italy, Spain and Taiwan, and reside in private and public collections across the United States.

Johnson also has four large, free-form sculptures traveling through all four floors in the Doyle Library. These were made from the only tree that was removed to make way for the library to be built, as a way for the library to share space with the once-proud oak tree that stood in that spot. Johnson was also heavily involved in the restoration of the 160-year-old Russian Orthodox Chapel at the Fort Ross Historic Park.

“A Prayer For The Earth,” in its original form, included a tin of tacks and a hammer  beside it, for visitors to knock tacks into its base as they said their own prayers for the Earth.

One can only wonder if this tradition will continue once the piece is restored back to its former glory. “The sculpture was the centerpiece of our garden,” Muzzatti said. “During breaks students could come out and enjoy the garden. It was right in front of our classrooms.. It had all types of herbs and culinary plants representing different cultures from around the world, it was a gathering spot.” 

“Donated public art like this is a rare thing,” SRJC faculty Michael McGinnis said of this treasured piece. Being a close friend of Johnson’s, he is undertaking this project as a labor of love. McGinnis also added that if funding cannot be found he will be willing to pay for the materials needed for the restoration from his own pocket, if necessary, in order to see the project through.

With the appropriate funding this project and the sculpture will be back to its original perch as the eye catching centerpiece of the new World Cultures Garden.

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About the Contributor
John Greenwood
John Greenwood, Reporter
John is in his first semester at the Oakleaf and J1. He is also studying J59 photojournalism. He has a keen interest in alternative music, live shows and film. He loves travel and travel stories, and has a strong affiliation and lifetime involvement with all forms of short circuit Stock Car Racing and Demolition Derby, as well as interests in various other contact sports.

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