My Suburban Buddha sculpture is finally assembled and in place! He’s made from scrap lumber from the boardwalk project, with a sash of cedar. Here’s how the sculpture came to be.

Inspiration: The Urban Buddha

In June 2017, I went to the People’s Summit, organized by Bernie Sanders, to regain hope and energy after the devastating election of 2016. My husband went with me to enjoy Chicago. Our hotel was across the street from Grant Park, which runs along Lake Michigan. The night before the conference, we walked to the southern end of the park to the skate park. There, we spotted a huge blue Buddha.

The sculpture looked energetic and deliberately rough. The vibrant blue, green, and red paint gave a lively graffiti vibe to the piece. A little investigation showed artist Tashi Norbu led the collaborative project that produced the fourteen-foot-tall sculpture:

The reclaimed wood used to create this sculpture sends a message to viewers about harmful environmental issues such as deforestation, palm oil production, and global warming happening in artist home country in Tibet and around the world. The artwork was created collaboratively by local and international artists, symbolizing nations coming together to work for a better future.

“There is no better teacher than nature itself. We can learn everything from nature and its creation.”
– Tashi Norbu.

What good fortune for a Buddhist People’s Summit participant! All three mornings before the conference, I walked through the park to the Urban Buddha and mediated. By another happy coincidence, a food truck with vegan tamales pulled up every day just before I caught the bus to the conference. I got lunch to go on the second and third days.

A Suburban Buddha for My Garden

This beautiful experience remained with me. I wanted to create my own Suburban Buddha as a tribute and meditation companion. When I saw the scrap lumber left from building our boardwalk and viewing platform, I asked Justin Durango to let me go through it and save choice pieces. I picked ones with a circular grain pattern for the face and the stack that represents the torso.


For the next three years, my Suburban Buddha sat in the screened porch or greenhouse, with his head to one side, while I tried to figure out how to assemble him. When I realized that I didn’t have the skill, I started looking for craftspeople to help me. The carpenters thought it was too weird. The artists wanted to work on their own visions, not mine. Just before I gave up, I heard about someone who would have been perfect, if only he hadn’t moved to France to become a Buddhist monk two weeks before.

OK, then. Not all dreams come true. I wanted to convert the greenhouse, which I’d never used as planned, to a catio. The first step was taking out the old sliding glass doors that separated the greenhouse from the screened porch. I offered them for free on Nextdoor. Once the doors were gone, I’d offer the wood for free too. If there were no takers, I’d throw it away the next trash day.

Giving Leads to Getting

When Anthony Delacerda came to get the doors, he seemed friendly, cheerful, and thoughtful. He made sure not to scratch the porch paint as he took the doors outside. I asked what he was going to do with them.

“I’m building a wood shop at home,” said he said. He showed me some pictures of his projects, including a carved cane for his grandmother and carved angel wings. His skill and creativity were impressive.

“This may seem odd, but let me show you this project I’ve been working on. Maybe you would help me with it if you are interested.”

To my delight, Anthony was interested! The Suburban Buddha was saved!

The Suburban Buddha sits next to a huge pine tree, hidden from the house by large azaleas.

Collaborating Makes It Better

The very next weekend, Anthony came out and made an excellent start on the assembly. He also made some inspired suggestions, such as cutting angles into the corners of the face so it wasn’t a plain square. When he came back the next weekend to finish, he brought a beautiful piece of cedar to use as the Buddha’s sash. He drilled holes in the hands so they looked more like the gyan mudra, a hand position of meditation. We tried using the cutouts as ears, but it made the sculpture look like FrankenBuddha. You can see the plugs now next to the neck, to help it flow down into the shoulders.

My version didn’t include ears at all, but Anthony tried again. He added long ones temporarily, so he could take a photo of the finished piece. He offered me a chance to look at them before taking them off. They made me laugh with delight! Not only did the ears make our sculpture look more like its inspiration, but they also made the Buddha look a bit like a forest creature. Anthony attached them (im)permanently. I am so pleased that this project turned into a collaboration.

The nearly finished piece is four and a half feet tall from the base. The Suburban Buddha would be over nine feet tall if he stood up. Anthony will come back, do some light sanding, and seal the wood so this piece of garden art will last for years. I’ll add some choice native plants around the base this fall. But for the most part, this project of the heart is done. May all who see it be happy, safe, and at ease.