Joseph Bruno




Prime Matter


Eric Orr

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Joseph S. Bruno, the oldest of eight children, was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1912 to Sicilian immigrants Vincent and Maria Bruno. He became the model of the American rags-to-riches hero, starting his life's work at age 12 when he took a job in a neighborhood grocery. Only six years later and with $600, Bruno had the vision and courage to begin a business of his own--a small grocery store in downtown Birmingham.

By 1935, Bruno had opened a second store and married Katie Rosato. Two daughters, Anne and Theresa Jo, were born to them. Both family and business thrived, and by the 1950s, Bruno had welcomed his five brothers as partners in the company. Bruno's professional success was tempered by his personal loss at the death of Katie in 1956, but he persevered in business and in life. The widowed father of two remarried in 1959, united in both love and shared grief with Katie's sister Theresa.

Bruno's Incorporated grew dramatically throughout the 1960s and 1970s with the addition of Big B drugstores and Food World grocery chains. Bruno's reputation grew as well. In addition to numerous honors, the president of Italy named him a Knight Officer of the Order of Merit, and as the embodiment of American opportunity, he earned the Horatio Alger award. By 1995, his health failing, Bruno agreed to the sale of the company he founded, now numbering 250 stores. The sale completed, Bruno died the next year on January 21 knowing that others would take up his life's work.

Joseph Bruno's name is synonymous not only with business success, but with dedication to faith and service to others. The devout Catholic found many ways to share the blessings enjoyed by his family. Above all, he believed in "giving back," and in doing so, tirelessly served his community, all the while building a better Birmingham. His philanthropy, both public and anonymous, benefited education, medicine and the church. The record of Joseph Bruno's generosity is as long and rich as his life.


The exterior plaza of The McWane Science Center features Eric Orr's "Birmingham Prime Matter", a 30' tall triangular pylon that evokes the "four elements" known to ancient natural science. This sculpture on occasion spits out water and fire. This work was created and installed in honor of Joseph Bruno, entrepreneur, philanthropist, civic leader, who believed in giving back and tirelessly served his community, building a better Birmingham.


Eric Orr was a painter and installation artist. He lived and worked in Venice, California from 1965–1998, and is a key figure of the Light and Space movement. Before moving to Los Angeles in 1965, Orr was a civil rights worker in Mississippi. His artworks are found in the collections of many major cultural institutions, and his work is installed in public and private spaces internationally.