‘Make Way for Ducklings’ Sculptor, Nancy Schön, Tells Her Own Story in New Video Project

Nancy Schön, the artist whose creations include the iconic ‘Make Way for Ducklings’ sculpture in the Public Garden, is now telling her own story in a five-part video series on YouTube, with the first chapter out now and subsequent installments expected to roll out about once a month.

‘Make Way for Ducklings: From Boston to Moscow’ is described as a “a visual oral history” by its main architect, Stella Gould, a retired senior producer for WCVB-TV’s long-running newsmagazine, ‘Chronicle.’ Gould, who would go on to produce several ‘Chronicle’ segments featuring Schön, first met the West Newton artist when Gould worked on a 2012 episode focusing on public art. The episode, which would go on onto to win a New England Emmy, included a retrospective of Schön’s work then on exhibit at the Kolbo Fine Judaica Gallery in Brookline. “After that, [Schön] adopted me, as I like to say,” said Gould.

Sculptor Nancy Schön is seen in her West Newton home studio during the filming of an interview for ‘Make Way for Ducklings: From Boston to Moscow.’

In the spring of 2022, Gould was in attendance when Schön spoke about her work at the North Hill retirement community in Needham. While Gould was previously aware that another set of Schön’s Ducklings had been installed in 1991 in Novodevichy Park in Moscow as a gift from then First Lady Barbra Bush to the First Lady of the Soviet Union, Raisa Gorbachev, it was “always a footnote,” said Gould. But upon hearing Schön discuss the anecdote in detail, Gould decided then that Schön’s story needed to be documented, with Schön telling it herself.

 In October of 2022, Gould, together with  Gino Mauro, a photographer and editor, as well as Gould’s one-time ‘Chronicle’ colleague, visited Schön in her home studio to film a sprawling, approximately two-hour conversation with the artist, which provides the framework for the video project.

“We just let her go and tell her story,” said Gould. “There were no notes, and it was all off the top of her head, with very little editing. It was really like stream of consciousness with just her.”

Now 95, Schön had previously told her story in print, with the publication of her memoir, ‘Make Way for Nancy: A Life in Public Art,’ in 2017, but this project marked the first time she sat down and attempted to orally recount her own personal history.

“It just sort of came out,” said Schön. “I’d never told [my story] quite like this. It’s very different when you’re talking than when you’re writing and thinking about it. For some reason, I was able to remember a lot of things.”

Schön also provided Gould with many personal artifacts that can be seen in the film. “I was able to dig up some things that are part of my history, ” said Schön. This ephemera includes a dog-tag that Schön was instructed to wear – and never remove – during her visit to Moscow as it denoted her status as a special guest in the Soviet Union.

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), a bilateral arms control treaty between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, was signed a mere three weeks after Schön flew on a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy transport plane to accompany the Ducks en route to Moscow. Schön even had dinner with two sitting First Ladies – Barbra Bush and MIchael Gorbachev – during her historic trip.

 “I think it’s a very important statement about what it was like between the U.S. and Russia when the START Treaty happened, and the voyage of the Ducks is a very important about the history of this event,” said Schön. “These Ducks have somehow made history everywhere they’ve been. Art is very much a part of American history. It’s amazing how sculpture has creeped into the history of our country.”

To view ‘Make Way for Ducklings: From Boston to Moscow’ on YouTube, visit https://youtu.be/vMzRQ-TK9yQ.

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