Four Fascinating Fountains in the Boston Public Garden

Four of the six fountain sculptures in the Boston Public Garden were created by women.

I learned this from the Friends of the Public Garden post during Women’s History Month, when I researched women sculptors on Commonwealth Avenue Mall. The sculptures in these four fountains are smaller scale than the two by men. All four are bronze on granite bases in the center of bricked basins. The women artists depicted children or animals rather than grand heroic or symbolic beings. Theirs aren’t the only sculptures by women in the Public Garden. The other two, Make Way for Ducklings by Nancy Schön and Tadeusz Kosciuszko by Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson, await attention in future posts.

For now, I can show what I saw when I visited those four fountains in early April and tell a few fascinating facts about each one. The fountains were not functioning yet, but that allowed me to get up close and focus on the sculpture rather than enhancements or effects of water. Of course, I’d like to follow up when everything is in full swing for spring.

Click on blue text for links to information about sculptures and artists. Click on photos for full frames and captions.

1. Small Child (1929) by Mary E. Moore (1881?-1967)

In the early part of the twentieth century, women sculptors were more likely to find work on garden sculpture than on monumental public art. Born in Massachusetts, Mary Ethelwyn Moore studied at the School of the  Museum of Fine Arts Boston and later taught there. She created other fountain sculpture, busts, and bas-relief.

2. Boy and Bird(1934)  by Bashka Paeff  (1893-1979) “The original sculpture was subsequently stolen, and a recast made in 1977. The second cast was of poor quality and deteriorated rapidly. The bird has been stolen. As a result, a third cast was made in 1992 by Paul King Foundry, the bird modeled using photographs.” quote from Smithsonian Institute Research Information System.

Bashka Paeff, born in Russia, came to the US as an infant. At age 14 she studied at Massachusetts Normal Art School (now called Massachusetts College of Art and Design) and later on at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.  Besides monuments, statues, and sculpture, she created bas-reliefs, including one of the  Lexington Minute Men.

3. Triton Babies (1922)  by Anna Coleman Ladd (1878-1939). The sculpture, based on studies of her own daughters, was originally created for an exhibit in 1915 and later adapted for the fountain.

Born Anna Coleman Watts in Philadephia, she studied in Europe as well as at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Using her skills as a portrait sculptor, Ladd founded the American Red Cross “Studio for Portrait-Masks” in Paris in 1917 to provide cosmetic masks to be worn by soldiers who had been badly disfigured in World War I. For a rich story of how and why she did this, go to the Smithsonian article “Faces of War” by Caroline Alexander.

4. Bagheera (1986)  (first exhibited in 1939 as Night) by Lilian Swann Saarinen (1912-1995). Bagheera is the panther character in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. 

Born in New York City, Lilian Swann studied at the Art Students League there and later at Cranbrook Academy in Michigan. She illustrated for magazines and children’s books, specializing in animal characters. Besides sculpting animal portraits and human busts, she taught at the School of the  Museum of Fine Arts Boston and Pratt Institute in New York.

The five-decade gap between the first three fountain sculptures and the last suggest that another sculpture by a different artist had once been located where Bagheera was finally installed. I haven’t tracked down data yet, but the history of the Public Garden refers to thirty years when fountains, footbridge and other features of the garden were not functioning. Bagheera entered after Friends of the Public Garden had formed and taken on major restoration efforts.

I hope to learn and report more about art in the Public Garden after I attend one of the docent-led tours that meet at the Ducklings statue in May: Public Garden Guided Walking Tours: Untold Stories of the Public Garden.  Maybe you’ll come too!

2 comments

  1. Nice history Deb!

    I painted the Boy and Bird statue last year! I called it “Quiet Corner”. You can see it on my website (top row):
    http://www.askdesign.biz/pages/shop-cat.php

  2. Rebecca MacWilliams · · Reply

    Hi Deb,I enjoyed sharing a virtual stroll with you in the BPG! Many thanks!

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