Mrs. Mallard and her kin always dress their best for a memorable occasion, whether it’s a festive holiday or another championship celebration for a hometown team, and an intended photo book would look back at the Ducks donning some of their most memorable costumes in the Public Garden over the years.
“Every time the Ducks get dressed up, people send me an email or a photo,” said Nancy Schön, the West Newton sculptor who created the iconic “Make Way for Ducklings” statue. “I can’t image the amount of time and effort people take making these outfits. “
The bronze sculpture occupies 35 feet of cobblestone along the Public Garden, and was installed on Oct. 4, 1987. It pays tribute to Robert McCloskey’s 1941 classic children’s book “Make Way For Ducklings,” which tells the story of a pair of mallards who decide to raise their family in the Public Garden’s lagoon, and depicts Mrs. Mallard, who stands the tallest at 38 inches, leading her flock of eight ducklings – Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack – through the park.
While Schön isn’t sure when the tradition of decorating the Ducks began, she said it originally occurred only to mark major holidays. “Then it wasn’t just for major holidays, and soon enough, it was for any reason people could think of to dress them up,” she said.
The Ducks began paying tribute to Boston pro-sports in 2004 when they donned Red Sox uniforms for the team’s World Series appearance, and they have subsequently gone on to show their support for other hometown heroes, including most recently, wearing Bruins gear when that team reached the Stanley Cup Finals last year.
In 2016, a special exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts celebrated the 75th anniversary of the publication of McCloskey’s children’s book called “Make Way for Ducklings: The Art of Robert McCloskey,” and Lorraine Walsh, a museum volunteer, designed and sewed min-tartan coats with velvet collars for the Ducks to wear for the occasion.
Other times, the Ducks have been adorned in attire intended to raise awareness of political issues and current events.
To coincide with the publication of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s 2016 book “My Own Words,” the robe-clad Ducks appeared as Supreme Court Justices. And women from all over the country knitted pink hats for the Ducks to wear in conjunction with the Boston Women’s March for America, which drew a crowd estimated at 175,000 to the Boston Common on Jan. 21, 2017 – one day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration – in support of women’s rights, Schön said.
Last summer, the Ducks were caged in chicken wire as a statement on the inhumane treatment of immigrant children at the border in a guerilla installation that was the brainchild of Karyn Alzayer, a Malden artist and founder of the nonprofit Integral Arts Everett.
But for the most part whoever dresses the Ducks has chosen and managed to remain anonymous.
“It’s a big mystery, and we know there are some groups who do it, but we don’t know who they are,” Schön said. “There are all sorts of thoughts about who it is.”
Meanwhile, Schön hatched the idea of compiling a photo book of the Ducks in costume over dinner with Sue Ramin, director of Brandeis University Press.
The two women became friends after Ramin successfully pitched the idea of a book devoted to Schön and her craft to her employer at the time, Boston-based David R. Godine, Publisher. This resulted in the publication of “Make Way for Nancy: A Life in Public Art” in 2017, which revisits and recounts the great success and many challenges Schön has encountered over the course of her career.
“Nancy is such an extraordinary person and so incredibly talented, and the Ducks, the Tortoise and the Hare in Copley Square and her other sculptures are so iconic that I wanted to [develop] a book about her achievements and how she achieved them,” Ramin said. “She’s an artist, a publicist and her own business manager – she does it all – and I was just really interested in the public art process.”
Ramin said she was inspired to help tell Schön’s story by walking past the Ducks each day on her way to work and noticing their ever-changing wardrobes.
“I though it was extraordinary how people expressed themselves through the Ducks, and that it’s become a form of self-expression and engagement with the public,” said Ramin, who is also helping Schön develop this latest book project. “It amazes me that people use them to celebrate Christmas, Easter, the winter season and Boston’s sports teams. It’s like a catalyst for commentary.”
Boston Parks Commissioner Ryan Woods points to the Ducks as not only a popular attraction for children, but also a city landmark that is embraced and enjoyed by visitors to the Public Garden of all ages.
“The Make Way for Ducklings statue is a beloved piece of public art in the City of Boston,” Woods said. “We look forward to welcoming children – and the young at heart – to the Public Garden for generations to come.”
A portion of the proceeds from sales of the book would benefit the Friends of the Public Garden, a private nonprofit that cares for the Boston Common, Public Garden and Commonwealth Avenue Mall in partnership with the city.
“The Ducklings sculpture is probably the most beloved sculpture in Boston, with outfits or without,” said Liz Vizza, executive director of the Friends group. “We are grateful to Nancy for her generosity in pledging a portion of the proceeds to the Friends so we can continue our work in caring for this iconic park and every creature in it.”
As for the expected content and release date of the intended book, Schön is now soliciting high-resolution photos submissions from the public, and will work together with Ramin to select a diverse representation of images for potential publication.
“We’re seeking the best, most artistic images we can find,” Schön said. “It will be a beautiful book and reminder that these Ducks are like the Energizer Bunny – they just keep going and going.”
To submit a photo, click on the link at https://nancyschon.typeform.com/to/IhTbAA. You will be asked to provide the occasion of the outfit/decoration, date of the photo (if you know it) and your name as the photographer if you desire attribution (if selected for the book). If your photo is used, you will be informed of its selection, and you will receive a copy of the book signed by Schön.