Being in her early 90’s, Mrs. Schön clearly has no intention of slowing down. Several ongoing artistic projects, interviews, meetings and tennis are on the schedule for a normal day, however, in these times of COVID-19, nothing is as it used to be. Challenges and setbacks have all been part of Mrs. Schön’s long artistic journey. This talented artist is used to resourcefulness and making the most of every situation, which is why she is making the most out of her time during lockdown and working on new pieces of art. I have been privileged to meet Mrs. Schön for an interview in February 2020. The interview lasted a few hours, where, over tea, we touched on subjects such as Mrs. Schön’s life prior to being a public artist, her journey to where she is today, being a female artist and her famous works of art. Following this interview, Mrs. Schön allowed me to walk through her art studio with her to get a better understanding of her creative process. As the interview ended, Mrs. Schön went off to play tennis and I am confident she can beat any of us in a match! Nancy Schön is a most remarkable woman and many topics could be touched upon in this blog about her. I have chosen to use this blog to present a collection of Mrs. Schön’s work, alongside some of the more interesting and less-known facts about them, as well as, the background and thoughts behind each piece. Through this blog, I hope to spark an interest in Mrs. Schön’s wonderful art for those less acquainted with it, as well as provide an interesting read for those who already love it. Finally, for those eager to learn more, I can highly recommend Mrs. Schön’s autobiography, Make Way for Nancy (which explores her life in public art) and the artist own page.
Nancy Schön is the sculptor behind several of the most loved landmarks of Boston, such as the Tortoise and Hare sculpture at Copley Square, and the Make Way for Ducklings sculpture, located in the Public Garden. Both sculptures are made of bronze, a favoured material used by the artist for public art. The reason Mrs. Schön frequently uses bronze is because she believes that art should not be regarded from afar, but touched and enjoyed by people of all ages. Therefore, her sculptures are often large – big enough for people to sit on, which they regularly do. Also, the sculptures are frequently touched to the extent that the bronze looks polished in places. Mrs. Schön tries to make her art approachable, just as she finds animals are, which is why they are often used as the subject of her art.
|An example of Mrs. Schön using animals in her art: oversize racoon at the sculptor’s home (artist private collection).
The magnitude of Mrs. Schön’s work is impressive. Although she may be best known for her public art on display, her artistic works are comprised of a variety of different forms and range over a wide spectrum from gravestone decorations to jewellery. Mrs. Schön enjoys creating works of art for charity, and there is almost always a story to be found behind her sculptures.
|Sometimes the meaning of Mrs. Schön’s art speak for itself. Clockwise from top left, “Congress”, “Hope”, “Phoenix Rising from the Ashes”, “Me Too”.
Mrs. Schön’s Make Way for Ducklings sculpture is based on a popular children’s book written by Robert McCloskey. The sculpture shows the ducks depicted in the book on their way to the nearby pond. The idea came from her friend Suzanne de Montchaux who had read McCloskey’s story to her children, and upon visiting the Boston Public Garden, one of her boys asked where the ducks from the story were. In that moment, Mrs. de Montchaux came up with the idea to ask Mrs. Schön to create this statue. Make Way for Ducklings significance to the city of Boston is often shown by dressing the sculpted ducks for various public occasions and events. Most recently, to raise awareness to the COVID-19 pandemic, the sculpted ducks could be seen wearing face masks. Mrs Schön enjoys her ducks being used as a way of expression, and that the public engage with the statue. The mystery is, that most of the time, no one really knows who is involved in these improvised, interactive, and creative acts.
|The Make Way for Ducklings sculpture in the Public Garden. As part of the process of choosing the placement of the statue, Mrs. Schön was able to represent the importance of the history of Boston by installing the monument on top of old Bostonian Cobblestones.
Mrs. Schön’s Tortoise and Hare sculpture is a tribute to the Boston Marathon and is placed at the race’s finish line. What is not well-known is that this sculpture actually wasn’t meant for Boston, it was meant for Hopkinton, the starting point of the race. Broken promises, travel, concert halls and the Boston Marathon all played a part in the sculpture’s interesting seven-year journey to reach its current home.
|The Tortoise and Hare sculpture at Copley Square. Note how in places the bronze almost looks polished due to the interaction from the public.
The Tortoise and Hare sculpture is based on a fable where the mythological story behind it is that the tortoise and the hare had a race. The hare was so sure of winning, that he took his time doing many other activities and when he realized that the slow and steady tortoise was about to finish the race, he rushed off but it was too late – the tortoise won the race. With the Tortoise and Hare sculpture, Mrs. Schön took into consideration not only the safety aspects, but a careful consideration of what children are drawn to as well as being a serious metaphor for the race. Fabels also play a part in another, more recent, project of Mrs. Schön, involving 24 bronze maquettes, one for each letter of the Greek alphabet and each one depicting a different fable. Not all of Mrs. Schön’s art has such a happy story to it though. Pooh, figuring Eeyore, Piglet and Winnie-the-Pooh, situated outside Newton Library, is actually placed there as a memorial, a fact, which is not commonly known. Several of Mrs. Schön’s other pieces of public art are also memorials, including memorial dragons and a bronze sled, the latter in memory of a child that never came home.
|Eeyore, Pooh, and Piglet maquette on display at the artist Newton, Massachusetts home.
More uplifting perhaps is another metaphor used by the artist from time to time: the giraffe, originating from the fact that Mrs. Schön’s late husband was very tall. Some of these giraffes are on display in Mrs. Schön’s exquisitely decorated home, which is filled with other pieces of beautiful art.
| Art on display at the artist home.
Creating the sculptures is only one side of the story when producing public art. Obtaining approvals from Councils and finding funding for the projects can make the process very difficult. This is one of the reasons why it has taken years of hard work to install several of Mrs. Schön’s pieces of art. Luck and patience, along with a passion for creativity, are needed to be able to successfully create a work of art inspired with one’s original vision as well as communal links. Mrs. Schön’s use of materials such as wax, armature, clay and bronze, gives each sculpture its own unique design, which is why even if you were to try to make a perfect replica of it, it would be impossible to do so. The only replica of Make Way for Ducklings is in Russia, where Mrs. Schön visited with former First Lady, Mrs. Bush, to have the sculpture installed. This replica is not an identical to the sculpture, but it is a copy designed to create the illusion of one.
|Left: As part of the artistic process of a sculpture, Mrs. Schön moulds figures with wax to see what works and what does not.
Below: The artist studio, where the magic happens.
Creating the art may be a lengthy process, but through her hard work and creativity, Mrs Schön’s public art evoke happiness and joy, and reminds ourselves that there is an inner child in all of us.
|Make Way for Ducklings and inner children
The author would like to thank Mrs. Schön for her contribution to this blog.
Schön, Nancy. Interview at her Newton, Massachusetts home, held on February 13, 2020.
Schön, Nancy. Make Way for Nancy. Boston, USA: DRG, 2017.
Photo Credit: Author’s private collection.