Plenty of children have occupied Benfield Elementary’s outdoor nature space since it was completed five years ago. But now, the area is home to another creature — the school’s mascot, Benny the Bulldog.
Benfield’s parent-teacher organization held an ice cream social in October to commemorate the playground’s fifth anniversary and to unveil a seven-foot wooden statue of Benny, created by Chartwood resident Mark Acton. Benny joined other new additions to the space: a mud kitchen and an expanded magnet wall.
With the addition of the statue, the playground features a stage; a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) area; the Monarch Waystation, which is a bird and butterfly garden made possible by a grant from Unity Gardens; and music instruments.
The playground area is now appropriately called Benny’s Backyard.
This was not Acton’s first project. He used a chainsaw to sculpt druid faces out of tree stumps at Druid Hill Park in Baltimore more than 10 years ago.
The woodworker spent 16 hours, across multiple sittings, carving the Benny statue out of oak.
“I had a vision of a full dog —not just a head — that was cartoonish but with realism to capture that mascot feel,” Acton said. “I wanted to keep it whimsical.”
Acton’s son, Keith, attended Benfield Elementary starting in 1996, and so the artist was thrilled to accept the gig.
"We liked [Benfield Elementary] because it was a Blue Ribbon School, and he thrived here," Acton said, speaking about his son.
Now a grandfather of three, Acton said woodworking is a hobby that he eventually wants to transition into full-time.
“I'd love to do it again for another school,” he said, referring to the new statue.
After the statue was unveiled, parents, students and staff members marveled at the finished work.
"It adds a unique character because it's individualized to our school,” said Principal Sue Myers.
Benfield PTO co-president Beth Karsner and PTO volunteer Allison Holcomb helped to make the new playground additions possible.
"We're so excited to commemorate this space with this piece of art,” she said. “From the parents to the administration and staff at Benfield, it shows how much we value the support for our school community."