Nancy Schön, who created the iconic “Make Way for Ducklings” sculpture on the Public Garden, was on hand for the installation of her latest work of public art on Wednesday, Aug. 11, at the Nonquit Street Green in Dorchester’s Upham’s Corner.
Schön’s “Diversity – The Owl and the Pussy Cat,” which was cast in bronze by Sincere Metal Works of Amesbury, is based on the 1869 classic nonsense rhyme of British painter and poet, Edward Lear. In this beloved bedtime-story-in-verse, a pair of natural enemies – the titular Owl and Pussy Cat – fall in love, agree to marry, and set to sea “for a year and a day” in a “pea-green boat.” They eventually land “where the Bong tree grows” and purchase their wedding ring from Piggy-Wig for the sum of one shilling. The following day, the Owl and his bride, the Pussy Cat” are married by the “turkey who lives on the hill.”
The sculpture depicts not only the Owl and the Pussy Cat, who stand 3 feet and 2½ feet tall, respectively, but also a ring-bearing Piggy-Wig, and intends to celebrate the diversity of Upham’s Corner,
It’s also only the second piece of permanent public art ever installed in the neighborhood, with the first, “A Dragon for Dorchester,” another bronze sculpture created by Schön, installed at the Nonquit Street Green in 2003.
Ruth Clarke, founding president of the Nonquit Street Land Trust (NSALT), which created the Nonquit Street Green as a small, passive neighborhood park, mini-arboretum, and children’s sculpture garden in 1993, said the group wanted to build something there to attract children, so she immediately though of Schön and put in a call to her, even though the two women had never met before.
As Clarke and Schön got to talking about putting “something whimsical” in the park, as Clarke describes it, they kicked around several ideas before Schön informed Clarke she was already working on a dragon sculpture that would eventually become “A Dragon for Dorchester.” This sculpture is based on the titular creature from the children’s poem, “The Tale of the Custard Dragon,” said Clarke, along with elements of “Puff the Magic Dragon” from the Peter, Paul, and Mary song of the same name.
But even before the installation of Schön’s dragon sculpture, which measures eight feet long and has a heart-shaped tail, the plan had been to install another piece of public art at Nonquit Street Green – something based on children’s literature, said Clarke, which would also celebrate the diversity of Upham’s Corner.
“Upham’s Corner is very proud of its diversity and wants to remain a diverse community,” she said. “And we thought, ‘what could be more diverse than an owl and pussy cat?’”
For fundraising for the second sculpture, Clarke felt she had to bide her time after asking donors to dig deep to help build the park in the first place, she said, so the project went on the backburner indefinitely.
About four or five years ago, the idea for a second sculpture at the Nonquit Street Green was “resurrected as part of a larger plan to turn the park over to the city,” said Clarke, and at a time when the notion of diversity was coming to the fore.
“Diversity has become even more relevant as the years have gone by, and certainly more relevant under the regime of Donald Trump,” said Clarke.
Schön and Clarke were talking when the topic of diversity came up, said Schön, and “that sort of set Ruth on her quest again.”
As for making the new sculpture a reality, Schön extends her gratitude to the Browne Fund, which supports public art, landscape improvements, and beautification projects throughout Boston, as well as to the Lynch Foundation.
“The Lynch Foundation helped make it go over the top,” said Schön. “They were great contributors.”
In appreciation of those who supported the cause, a Benefactors Bench for the new sculpture – a block of solid semi-smooth Chelmsford Granite that can be used for seating – will be installed in the park in the next week or so, which, said Clarke, will boast the names of all the donors. “The Owl and the Pussycat” will also be inscribed in its entirety at the top of the bench, while the single lyric of Lear’s unfinished sequel poem, “Children of the Owl and the Pussycat,” will be engraved on its right side. Two of Lear’s three original images will also be engraved on the back of the bench.
While Schön’s newest sculpture will likely draw new visitors to the Nonquit Street Green, she said the credit should really go to Clarke for creating the park in the first place.
“Ruth has worked so hard to make such a beautiful park in an area where [residents] normally don’t see such beauty, and to make their lives better, sweeter, and nicer,” said Schön “The whole idea was to put something beautiful in this place and she worked so hard to make it happen.”
“Diversity – The Owl and the Pussy Cat,” meanwhile, will be formally presented to the community sometime in 2022 when the Nonquit Street Green reopens under the ownership of the City of Boston, said Clarke.