Public Garden’s Ducklings Turn 30

By Dan Murphy

The sculptor who brought Mrs. Mallard and her family of aquatic birds from Robert McCloskey’s classic children’s story “Make Way for Ducklings” to life in the Public Garden will preside over a 30th-birthday celebration for this Boston landmark in the park this Saturday, Oct. 7, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Nancy Schön, the West Newton resident and graduate of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston who installed the sculpture on Oct. 4, 1987, is partnering with the Friends of the Public Garden to present the festivities, which will include a magician, guitar player, face-painting, a reading of the story and more.

“There are no vendors, and I pay for everything,” Schön said. “It’s my gift to the children of Boston and everywhere else.”

Like the 25th anniversary celebration, kids will be supplied with crayons and construction paper to design their own personalized birthday cards and drawings for the Ducklings, with Schön again crafting a large egg from Styrofoam and plaster of Paris to serve as a mailbox for the greetings and well-wishes.

This year’s guests are expected to include Henry Lee and Leslie Singleton Adam, president emeritus and chair of the board of directors of the Friends group, respectively.

“We are thrilled the Ducklings are celebrating their 30th birthday and happy to help Nancy Schön with their special day,” wrote Liz Vizza, executive director of the Friends group. “The ‘Make Way for Ducklings’ sculpture is truly beloved by all.”

Mayor Martin J. Walsh has also been extended an invitation to this fourth anniversary event for the iconic sculpture. (Walsh’s mayoral predecessor, Thomas M. Menino, was on hand for both the 25th and 20th anniversary celebrations while the first birthday party to mark the sculpture’s 10th anniversary took place in 1997 and was attended by McCloskey himself).

“One thing that’s particularly exciting [about these anniversary celebrations] is seeing people who enjoyed the Ducks as children now bringing their own kids to see them,” Schön said. “It’s pretty gratifying to think at least two or maybe three generations have now enjoyed them.”

Meanwhile, Schön’s new book “Make way for Nancy: The Story of Her life in Public Art,” published by David R. Godine, is now available at local bookshops, as well as on Amazon and Nancy’s Web site (

It revisits and recounts the many challenges she has faced in creating her public art.

For the Duckling’s sculpture, Schön first had to gain the copyright approval from McCloskey and then spent countless hours at the Copley Branch of the Boston Public Library copying his original drawings.

“In order to turn a 2-D drawing into something with three dimensions, you really have to get inside the artist’s head,” she said.

Then, to prepare for crafting a scale model of the sculpture, Schön studied the anatomy of ducks. “I love the research and do a lot of homework,” she said.

As for her “Tortoise and the Hare” sculpture in Copley Square, which was inspired by the Boston Marathon, Schön initially had trouble raising money for the project and then faced resistance from the Boston Athletic Association.

“There’s always a road block of one kind or another with public art,” she said, “but it’s also wonderful because it can be enjoyed by anyone, free of charge and at any time of the day or night.”

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