South End Artist Finding New Ways to Bring Awareness to Leonard Nimoy Memorial

Since the Museum of Science’s plans to honor Leonard Nimoy, the West End native who went on to portray Mr. Spock on “Star Trek,” with a memorial were announced in March, the project’s $1 million fundraising goal has raised less than $25,000 so far. But the South End artist who first broached the subject of memorializing Nimoy in his hometown is refusing to give up so easily and finding creative ways to bring more public awareness to the proposed project.

On March 26, which would’ve been Nimoy’s 90th birthday, and which was proclaimed “Leonard Nimoy Day” in the City of Boston by then-Mayor Martin Walsh, the museum announced its partnership with the Nimoy family and Massachusetts artist David Phillips to build a 25-foot-tall stainless-steel monument depicting Mr. Spock’s iconic Vulcan hand salutation comprising a raised hand with the palm forward and thumb extended while the middle and ring fingers parted (and which is usually accompanied by the character’s spoken expression of well-wishing, “Live Long and Prosper”), that would be illuminated from within using LED lighting.

“The ‘Live Long and Prosper’ symbol represents a message that my dad believed so strongly in,” said Leonard’s daughter, Julie Nimoy, in a press release at the time of the announcement. “My dad always loved Boston and he would be honored knowing that the Museum of Science would be the permanent home to this memorial. The sculpture not only depicts one of the world’s most recognized and loved gestures for peace, tolerance, and diversity, but it will also be a beautiful tribute to my dad’s life and legacy.”

The proposed memorial is the brainchild of Tom Stocker, a visual artist who lives on Northampton Street in the South End, which he conceived after watching “Leonard Nimoy’s Boston” – a half-hour special that first aired on WGBH-TV in 2014 in which Nimoy, accompanied by his filmmaker son, Adam, returned to his native city to reminisce about growing up in the old West End as the son of Jewish immigrants from Ukraine.

In fact, Nimoy’s ties to the city ran so deep he revealed in his autobiography “I Am Not Spock,” that he based the Vulcan salutation on a rabbinical blessing he saw performed during a religious service at an Orthodox synagogue he accompanied his grandfather to as a boy.

Stocker, who considers himself more of a casual “Star Trek” fan than a diehard “Trekkie,’  began his effort in earnest to memorialize Nimoy in March of 2015  – one month after the actor’s death at age 83 – and it was around this time he wrote a letter to Sebastian Smee, then with The Boston Globe. Shmee reprinted Stocker’s letter in the Globe soon afterwards while further proclaiming that  erecting a monument to Nimoy in Boston would be most “logical” in a nod to another of Mr. Spock’s well-remembered catchphrases.

In  June of 2020, Stocker launched a grassroots fundraising campaign on Facebook to finance the cost of building the memorial to Nimoy, which far exceeded its modest $3,000 benchmark. As evidence of the Nimoy’s globe-spanning appeal, one woman from India donated $5 to the cause. Stocker gifted her one of the small, original acrylics he painted of the Vulcan hand salutation as a token of his appreciation.

Stocker also was the one who initially contacted Phillips and helped recruit him for the Nimoy project after Stocker was out for a walk and came across “Scrolls” – a 16-foot-high sculpture Phillips crafted from perforated stainless steel to resemble the form of a violin, which is illuminated from within using LED lighting,  sitting on the lawn across from the New England Conservancy’s Jordan Hall.

Phillips had been  a fan of “Star Trek” and regularly watched the series in reruns in the ‘70s, but was unaware of Nimoy’s connection to Boston and the West End until he spoke with Stocker.

 When the Museum of Science began raising money for its proposed Nimoy memorial in March of this year, around $20,000 was donated in the first month, which included some funds that Stocker transferred from his first fundraising effort on Facebook for the cause. But as of Wednesday, Oct. 10, that amount was just shy of $25,000, or only about 2 percent of the fundraising goal.

Stocker began a campaign on his personal Facebook and Instagram accounts about two months ago to raise awareness of the proposed Nimoy memorial – a series of tongue -in-cheek entries contrasting Nimoy with individuals who have been memorialized in Boston with statuary while comparing their merits for receiving this honor in contrast to Nimoy’s own legacy and local accomplishments.

A bronze memorial to Benjamin Franklin, one of the nation’s Founding Fathers, by Lewis Cohen stands in Copley Square, while John Singleton Copley, the most famous painter in the colonies, has been immortalized with a bronze memorial by Lewis Cohen that stands in Copley Square.

 Franklin left Boston to live in Philadelphia and London, and Copley, a Tory, fled Boston for London on the eve of the American Revolution and never returned to the city.

“An American at heart, he nevertheless was loyal to the crown and never returned to Boston,”  Stocker wrote of Copley. “But his legacy is shared by museums in both America and Britain.”

Likewise, Edgar Allan Poe, another of Boston’s Native Sons, didn’t achieve literary fame until he left Boston permanently and resettled in Baltimore, although a memorial to him is located  at the corner of Boylston and Charles streets at Edgar Allan Poe Square

“An unloved Edgar Alan Poe leaves Boston for good, unappreciated by the critics of his work,” wrote Stocker. “On the other hand, Leonard Nimoy, loved the world over, has yet to have his Memorial at the Museum of Science.”

Phillis Wheatley, the first published African American author, was honored alongside Abigail Adams and Lucy Stone, on  the Boston Women’s Memorial, a trio of bronze monuments to the three female trailblazers on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall.

Wheatley was kidnapped from her African homeland at around the age of 7 and learned English and Latin on her own, as well as how to write from white children. She began writing poetry as a teen and later went to London. Although Wheatley became a celebrated poet in Great Britain, where slavery was banned, she reportedly chose to return to Boston with her adoptive  “family,” according to Stocker.

“Like his 18th century predecessors, Leonard Nimoy left Boston, but like Phyllis Wheatley, he did return – many times- for charitable events here, and also for philanthropic causes across the country,” wrote Stocker. “His Nimoy Foundation for the Arts has helped American museums, as well as Boston’s Isabella Stuart Gardiner Museum’s Artist Residency program.”

As for the feedback he has received on the campaign thus far, Stocker said, “Some people were amused and didn’t know the people honored by the statues, or the little anecdotes about the subjects.”

While word of the proposed Nimoy memorial had been widely disseminated among Trekkies online, Stocker also rented a booth over the weekend of Sept. 3-5,  when Fan Expo Boston (formerly Boston Comic Con,) came to the Boston Convention and Expo Center to further publicize the effort.

The cost of the booth was $295 for the entire duration of the convention, which included admission for two people to staff it. Parking was an additional $20 a day, but if you left the lot and came back later the same day, you had to pay again, which happened once to Stocker.

In all, he raised around $400 from around 100 donors, which just about covered his expenses. “The publicity and spreading the word was certainly worth the time and effort,” added  Stocker, who said he doesn’t anticipate renting a booth again next year when the Fan Expo Boston returns. “I would hope a year from now more corporate entities would have donated,” he said.

Stocker also met one of Nimoy’s former co-stars at the convention: Walter Koenig who portrayed Ensign Pavel Chekov on the original “Star Trek” series.

Besides apprising Koenig of the proposed memorial to Nimoy, Stocker also gifted the one-time USS Enterprise crew member who as at the convention to sign autographs, with one of his Vulcan hand-salutation acrylics just ahead of Koenig’s 85th  birthday on Sept. 14.

“He wasn’t aware of [the proposed Nimoy memorial] and a little surprised it was happening,” said Stocker, “but said he would certainly spread the word.”

Unfortunately, this moment wasn’t preserved for posterity. “It didn’t occur  to me to take a photo with him until afterwards,” said Stocker.

To donate to the Museum of Science’s fundraising campaign for the Leonard Nimoy Memorial, visit mos.org/Nimoy.

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