Newton, Massachusetts-based Nancy Schön (b. 1928) is an international sculptor of whimsical animals, best known for her bronze duck and ducklings in Boston’s Public Garden. This series of sculptures is her recreation of the duck family in Robert McCloskey’s classic children’s book, Make Way for Ducklings. Schön’s sculptures are designed for people to touch, sit on, hug and interact with every day of the year. In addition to Make Way for Ducklings, Shön created a bronze Tortoise and Hare which is a metaphor for the Boston Marathon, located at race’s the finish line in Copley Square. Nancy married Donald Schön in 1952 and feels their work was very similar. Donald’s writing about “reflection in action” parallels the process of creating a sculpture as the professional reflects on their practice in the midst of practice in order to problem solve. As Nancy creates a work of art, her research is a quest for knowledge and of understanding issues and of learning. “We learn so much from our inquiry but as my husband said, ‘we know more than we can say’ and I would always say back to him that I think our unconscious is brilliant!” Nancy was recently awarded an honorary doctor of law degree from Mount Ida College in honor of her work in public sculpture.
I dropped off a wax at the Green Foundry in Eliot, Maine last week. There is a lovely sculpture show on the grounds, which is adjacent to Sanctuary Arts. I was reminded of foundry days at Andrew DeVries‘s River Studio, where my early work was cast.
Modeling wax likenesses, like watercolor painting and embroidery, was considered an acceptable form of artistic accomplishment for women in the Enlightenment. Patience Wright, however, brought what can only be called notoriety to her chosen art form. The notorious Mrs. Wright, a widow with three children to support and a talent for making money from her talents, was famously called “the queen of sluts” by Abigail Adams. Whether this was a response to a personal remark made by the artist, or a general observation about Mrs. Wrights’ character, is not recorded. Patience Wright did, however, do a brisk business at her London wax works studio—an exhibit which predated Madame Tussaud’s by a good thirty years.
Patience Wright was originally from Philadelphia, and exhibited her wax figures widely in the colonies before a fire destroyed her work while on display in New York. Benjamin Franklin encouraged her to come to London, where he introduced her to members of London society, whom Mrs. Wright had, it seems, no trouble cultivating.
A 1772 article in the Virginia Gazette describes Mrs. Wright’s working methods: “…this peculiar excellence of forming men and women in wax was reserved by the goddess of nature for the superiour [sic] genius of America; and when we consider to what an amazing perfection she has brought this art, it rather perplexes our understanding to see compositions so immediately like ourselves. I mixed with a variety of fashionable people, who frequent this repository of curiosities, and I could not help smiling to hear and see her at work; for while the head lies upon her knee it hath so strongly a human appearance, that, at the first sight, it looks like a fresh head severed from the body. But the manner of her working up the features is wonderful; she always covers the wax with a cloth, and while the wax is warm and soft, and equal to any impression, she raises or depresses it at pleasure, and some of the strongest likenesses she hath done from memory only…”
Pictured: Patience Wright working on a wax figure, circa 1775. From http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-madame-tussaud-of-the-american-colonies-was-a-founding-fathers-stalker-180948610/?no-ist
After much deliberation and with almost 40 names to choose from, the Acton-Boxboro Cultural Council, sponsor of my latest outdoor sculpture, voted on the name Heron’s Dream. Acton kindergarten student, Calvin Miller, chose this name “Because the heron stands still while the other animals zip by around him.”
Calvin is shown with State Rep. Jamie Eldridge, receiving his official citation at the opening on June 1. My co-artist, Joyce Audy Zarins, is seated in the front row with her granddaughter.
Nara Park is officially open for the season, and the sculpture is on view in the catch basin at the stone bridge—heron, frog, and all. I’ll post more photos as the summer goes on.
Ronnie Gould‘s raku-fired, stoneware dogs form a (mostly) lifesize pack at Concord’s Lacoste Gallery. Shown is “Orange Frisbee Dog,” joyously leaping to catch his favorite toy.
Through June 21, Main Street, Concord, Mass.
I went to a demonstration of 3D printers recently, and ended up thinking about this photograph of Gwen Lux in her New York studio sometime in the 1940s. Lux is seen enlarging her sculpture for Rockefeller Center using a pantograph, the assemblage of pipes above her head. While the Juley Archive of the Smithsonian houses this and other photographs of Lux with her sculpture (both maquette and full-scale versions), her pantograph is only visible in this shot. A construction of metal and pipe, rigged on a boom near the studio ceiling, it basically worked just like the child’s toy that many of us used to make copies long before the existence of desktop 3D printers.
The pantograph’s basic design is simple: four bars linked together in a parallelogram shape. By tracing an object or drawing with the pointer end, the pantograph traces a larger or smaller image depending upon how one adjusts the pen (or pencil) and pointer.
Wikipedia says that the device was first created by inventor and steam pioneer James Watt in the 18th century, but other, simpler versions were in use by artists in the Renaissance and probably before. Watt’s version was perfected by Benjamin Cheverton (1796–1876) in 1836. Cheverton’s machine was fitted with a rotating cutting bit to carve reduced versions of well-known sculptures.
Another version is still in use to reduce the size of large relief designs for coins.
My writer friend, Mary Ellen Hannibal, recently posted: “Species of plants and animals are disappearing 100 times faster than they should. Later this month The New York Times will start running a six-part series I’ve written, tracking how conservation biology developed to engage the problems of extinction. I’ll be giving a couple of talks on the subject too, focusing on the discovery process — how landmark concepts, extinction’s ‘greatest hits,’
were figured out by scientists and continue to be refined and applied today. Many of these stories have a distinctly Western focus — Paul Ehrich and Peter Raven hatched the idea for quantifying co-evolution (relationships that climate change is unhinging) based on butterflies and plants at Stanford’s Jasper Ridge Reserve. Totally appropriate for kids 12 and up.
Evening of Extinction
Friday, May 9
From 6:30-8:30 with a talk at 7:15
1850 Fourth Street, San Rafael
with “The Last of Their Kind,” paintings by Ellen Litwiller [beautiful!]
Wednesday, May 28
Lunch and slide presentation
Stanford’s Bill Lane Center for the American West
RSVP here: http://west.stanford.edu/events/extinctions-greatest-hits