As it celebrates its 75th anniversary, Robert McCloskey’s Caldecott Award-winning book Make Way for Ducklings continues to be a favorite bedtime story around the world. In Boston, where the charming tale of a mother duck’s efforts to escort her ducklings to their new home is set, lovers of the story gather each year on Mother’s Day and on nearly every other day to visit the set of sculptures of Mrs. Mallard and her bronze brood in Boston’s famed Public Garden. Those sculptures are the work of internationally-acclaimed artist Nancy Schön.
While Schön is also known for such works as her set of sculptures to accompany award-winning author Anita Diamant’s retellings of Aesop’s Fables and the other beautiful pieces she shows at galleries like Kolbo Fine Judaica in Brookline, she holds a special place in her heart for the wonderful waddlers she has helped raise.
“The book and the sculpture have influenced each other in about the same way,” says Schön, who will be appearing October 1 at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst as part of their summer-long celebration of McCloskey’s masterpiece. “People see the ducks and want to read the book or they read the book and want to see the sculptures. A lot of tourists come to Boston because they have read the book and somehow they know here is a sculpture.” Among these have been former First Lady Barbara Bush and former Russian First Lady Raisa Gorbachev.
“Mrs. Bush came to the Boston Public Garden with Mrs. Gorbachev and Mrs. Gorbachev said they were nice,” Schön recalls, “and we were able to connect with Mrs. Bush and ask her if she wanted to give them to Mrs. Gorbachev as a gift from the children of the US to the children of the then USSR.”
Speaking of children, Schön was raised by parents who had gifts for flower arranging, and says that she was also artistically inclined but never dreamed her work would achieve the acclaim it has. Inspired by her parents and also by Michelangelo, Schön took classes at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. As she became more confident in her abilities, Schön began to show her work, eventually catching the eye of an urban planner who wanted a piece of sculpture for the Public Gardens.
“She asked me to collaborate with her,” Schön says. In addition to garnering approval from McCloskey, Schön also had to receive official blessing from the Friends of the Boston Public Garden, the Art Commission, the Landmarks Commission, and the Parks Department.
“This was no mean feat,” Schön smiles.
As popular as the ducks have become with tourists, they are also popular with pranksters, many of whom have stolen one of the baby ducklings from Mrs. Mallard. “When a duck is stolen, I have to make a new one,” Schön explains, noting that there are “extra ducks” in the Boston Public Library and also on the Children’s patio of Boston City Hospital.
More recently, Schön has made more ducks but on a smaller scale.
“I’ve been doing jewelry for non profits for some time,” she explains, noting that Mrs. Mallard is now available in a 7/8” pendant that comes in either 14k gold or sterling silver with diamond eyes, “and the woman with whom I produce them suggested we make the ducks into jewelry. It was done through 3-D printing…. It was magic!” When asked what lies ahead, Schön says that she is currently hard at work on a book about her work which is scheduled to be released in October of 2017 (which happens to be the 30th anniversary of the ducks’ arrival in the garden).
“That’s plenty to do,” she says. “I’m on my ‘next’!”