It can be hard to find the perfect place to raise your children – especially if there are eight of them. And they’re ducklings.
Robert McCloskey’s picture book, Make Way for Ducklings, was first published in 1941 and stands the test of time as a children’s classic. The story of the pair of mallards that decided to raise their ducklings on an island in the lagoon in the Boston Public Garden earned a Caldecott Medal for illustrations in 1942.
It wasn’t until 1987 that sculptor Nancy Schon was able to bring the duck family to life in the Public Garden at Boston’s historic center. Now the row of ducks is a major attraction in the Boston park.
“I didn’t read [the book] as a child, but my children did,” Schon said. “It was written in 1941 and by that time I was grown.”
When she was commissioned to do the piece, she met with author McCloskey at her home, partly to prove to him she was credible and a good enough sculptor for his precious work, she said. “I promised I wouldn’t commercialize his book by selling t-shirts or making souvenirs,” she said. “He turned down every other offer to reproduce the ducks, and our meeting paid off. I told him I wasn’t going to pour our ducks.”
With a promise like that, the Boston ducks were likely to be one of a kind; until the First Lady of the United States called.
Barbara Bush called and said she’d like to give an exact copy of the Boston ducks to the First Lady of Russia, Raisa Gorbachev. Luckily, McCloskey approved the statues and Schon set about recreating them, right down to using original Boston cobblestones on the path where the Moscow ducks would walk.
“We took a C5 plane and five men to put them in there,” Schon said. “There was 15 tons of material, 40 inch footings, generators, cement, and water and diamond saws. It was a pretty exciting thing to do.”
The statues and cobblestones were placed in Moscow’s Novodevichy Park for Russian children to enjoy.
The world was still nervous about the end of the Cold War, but Schon
found friendship and commonalities with the two first ladies and other national leaders at the time. “I had dinner with the Gorbachevs,” she said. “Isaac Stern played at the state dinner. I met White House Chief of Staff John Sununu and Lt. General Brent Scowcroft in an elevator. They recognized me as the sculptor and quacked at me,” she laughed.
Schon has been back to Moscow once in 2000 to repair the ducks. Someone cut them off their cobblestones and took them. Mrs. Gorbachev had passed away by then, but Mr. Gorbachev wanted to make sure the sculpture was put back together because his wife loved them, Schon said.
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