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Tiny Story: Forged Histories of the Public Garden

Written by Mackenzie Barrall
Photos by Ava Yokanovich

Founded in 1837, the Boston Public Garden is dotted with fountains, statues, and monuments from different points in its history. While many of them were designed and sculpted by men, the Public Garden also showcases many created by women in a time when making a living as a professional female sculptor was complicated by discrimination and stigma. Of the fourteen fountains, statues, and monuments in the Public Garden, five were created by women. The statue of Charles Sumner was originally meant to be sculpted by Massachusetts native Anne Whitney. Whitney won the anonymous national competition in 1875 for her creation of a Charles Sumner statue. Her design shows Sumner sitting regally in a chair with an open book, deep in contemplative thought (below, left. Top image on mobile). When her identity as the designer of the statue was discovered and it was revealed that she was a woman, the judges of the competition were outraged and chose to award the design of the runner-up, Thomas Ball. His design is the proud, formidable statue that stands in the Public Garden to this day (below, right. Bottom image on mobile). Whitney’s design now sits in General McArthur Square in Cambridge. 

Charles Sumner statue created by Anne Whitney   Charles Sumner statue in Boston Public Garden

The most recent and famous sculpture by a female artist is the beloved bronze statue Make Way for Ducklings. It was created by Nancy Schön in 1987 and was modeled after the children’s book “Make Way for Ducklings” by Robert McClosky. The ducklings were made to be interactive, with many children (and adults) posing on or with the ducklings. The sculpture is dressed up for various occasions with garments like sporting jerseys, hats, and in the photo below, wings. Schön received a fine arts education from the Museum School (now known as the School of the Museum of Fine Arts) in 1952 and she continues to create sculptures around the world, some of which are also inspired by animals and children’s stories. 

Make Way for Ducklings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Along the Arlington Street entrance to the Garden stand two small fountains with bronze sculptures. These fountains have been left dry for decades due to the issue of non-circulating water, but will be restored and updated as part of a project that is being pursued by the Friends of the Public Garden. The first fountain, Boy and Bird, was created in 1934 by Bashka Paeff, a Russian immigrant who studied at Mass College of Art and Design around 1907 and the Museum School in 1914. The sculpture is cast in bronze and shows a young boy crouched down while holding a bird (below, left. Top image on mobile). The sculpture was stolen in the early 1970s and another was recast in 1977. The second iteration began to deteriorate quickly and the bird was stolen again. The entire sculpture was replaced for the final time in 1995 and remains today. 

On the other side of the path is another fountain that contains the Small Child sculpture. It was created by Mary E. Moore, who was born in Massachusetts around 1887 and attended the Museum School. The sculpture was cast in bronze in 1929 and given to the Public Garden as a gift by Mrs. Alfred Tozzer. This fountain also explores the theme of childhood wonder with a young child looking down at a rock (below, right. Bottom image on mobile).

Boy and Bird statue   Small Child statue

Near the Charles Street Entrance to the Public Garden sits Triton Babies, which was the first fountain to be placed in the garden. It was created in 1915 by Anna Coleman. The sculpture was originally in the Panama-Pacific Exhibition in San Francisco before being donated by Coleman to the Public Garden in 1922 to make art more accessible to the public. This fountain depicts two children playing together with the water bubbling around them (below, left. Top image on mobile). Coleman studied in Paris before returning to the United States and settling in Boston in 1905, where she studied at the Museum School. Coleman quickly became a well known sculptor in Boston and was one of the first members of the Guild of Boston Artists. 

The final fountain, Bagheera, sits opposite Triton Babies at the Charles Street Entrance. It showcases a bronze panther swiping at an owl (below, right. Bottom image on mobile) and was inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book.” The sculpture was created and originally exhibited in 1939 as “Night” at the New York World’s Fair by Lilian Swann Saarinen. It was placed in the Public Garden in 1986 as a gift from Friends of the Public Garden and friends of the late Isabella Grandin. Saarinen had spent her childhood drawing animals and much of her fine arts schooling sculpting them. She created Bagheera as one of her earliest works while studying at the Cranbrook School of Art before moving to Cambridge in 1954. Saarinen remained in Massachusetts until her death in 1995.

Titron Babies   Bagheera statue

The fountains and sculpture can be found on the Back Bay East section of the Women’s Heritage Trail, which focuses on women in the arts and contributes to the atmosphere of the public garden.  

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