For Nancy Schön, who brought the family of aquatic birds from Robert McCloskey’s classic children’s book “Make Way for Ducklings” to life with her bronze sculpture in the Public Garden, it was truly a family affair when she enlisted her daughter for her latest project – an 8-foot bronze caterpillar that now graces the Waban Common in Schön’s hometown of Newton.
This project was a collaboration between Nancy and one of her four children, Susan Schon, an Andover resident who has real gift for creating children’s drawings – a skill she had previously put to good use working as a graphic designer. And Susan also once designed children’s clothing, said Nancy, so Susan’s skillset lent itself easily to the project.
“The eyelashes and the face are all hers,” Nancy said of the personal imprint Susan left on their caterpillar. “I want to give her total credit for making it wonderful all the way through.”
The impetus for the project dates back to May of 2021, when Sallee Lipshutz, president of the Waban Common board of directors, reached out to Nancy about creating a sculpture for the green.
Nancy suggested something that children could sit on, like “A Dragon for Dorchester,” her 8-foot bronze sculpture of a dragon which was installed in 2003 at the Nonquit Street Green.
“I said I thought it might be nice to have something long that children could sit on,” she said.
Lipshutz, however, had her heart set on a sculpture based on the titular character from “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” a 1969 children’s picture book designed, illustrated, and written by the American author, Eric Carle. But this plan was ultimately derailed due to licensing issues surrounding Carle’s book.
Since Waban Common sits directly across from Angier Elementary School, Nancy then proposed her sculpture could depict a squirrel holding a book. The Waban Common board rejected this idea outright, however.
“I went back to the drawing board, and they were very insistent on it being a caterpillar,” said Nancy.
Once this was settled, Nancy began exhaustively researching caterpillars by poring over books and illustrations – a habit she has dutifully employed with all of her subjects since creating her first piece of the public art, the Ducklings, back in 1987.
(Nancy has created more than 20 public sculptures, which in addition to the Ducklings in the Public Garden and “A Dragon for Dorchester,” also includes the Tortoise and the Hare in Copley Square, as well as another set of Ducklings in Moscow, Russia.)
Nancy and Susan finished their caterpillar in December, which was right on target, since Nancy said it typically takes her between one and two years to complete each sculpture.
It was installed on Waban Common on Dec. 20, and a formal dedication is set for the spring, although a date for this event has yet to be announced.
“I can’t wait to see kids climbing on the caterpillar – it’s just the right size for little kids, even big kids,” said Nancy, who added it’s not uncommon to see adults, as well as children, sitting atop her Ducklings sculpture in the Public Garden.
When Nancy and Susan were creating the sculpture, they gave it the informal moniker of “Rosie,” but Nancy said she hopes that the Waban Common board of directors would hold a contest for children to give it a lasting name.
Meanwhile, Nancy, who turned 94 in September, said she has several “other things in the pipeline” that she’s now keeping close to the vest pending their official announcements, but retirement clearly doesn’t seem to be an option for her.
“I just feel like I’m one of the luckiest people that ever lived,” she said. “People have been so kind and supportive to me – it’s wonderful. I hope I can keep producing things that other people are going to enjoy.”