July 4, 2010

Keyes: A bear of a job, and sculptor was happy to take it on

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BOOTHBAY - After the rains stopped, Nancy Schon slipped on her walking shoes and took a stroll out to the children's garden where her bronze bear appears to lumber among the low-bush blueberries.

click image to enlarge

“Sal’s Bear,” based on the cute cub in the Robert McCloskey children’s book “Blueberries for Sal,” was created by sculptor Nancy Schon for the new children’s garden at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Sculptor Nancy Schon with “Sal’s Bear” at the new children’s garden at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. “This garden is by far the most beautiful garden I’ve ever had a sculpture in. I am so pleased,” Schon said.

Courtesy Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

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Schon's evocative sculpture doesn't move, but if you use just a little imagination, you can almost see the bear's nose twitch as it approaches the overturned bucket of blues.

The sculpture, "Sal's Bear," is the latest addition to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. The sculptor based her lifelike bear on Robert McCloskey's beloved children's book "Blueberries for Sal," which, of course, is set in Maine.

"Sal's Bear" is big and climbable, and full of details: an overturned bucket of blueberries, a chickadee munching on the berries and pinecones scattered on the ground. All are symbolic of Maine.

Although she does not live in Maine, Schon was the perfect choice for this project. The artist, from Newton, Mass., created the popular "Make Way for Ducklings" sculpture in the Boston Public Gardens. She's also placed a second "Make Way for Ducklings" sculpture in Moscow. A few years ago, she placed a sculpture from McCloskey's book "Lentil" in his hometown of Hamilton, Ohio.

But never, she said, has she seen a more appropriate setting for any of her sculptures than the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in midcoast Maine.

"This garden is by far the most beautiful garden I've ever had a sculpture in. I am so pleased," she said.

"Sal's Bear" is among the many highlights of the new Bibby and Harold Alfond Children's Garden, which opens Thursday. Along with "Sal's Bear," visitors can also enjoy spouting whales and dragon heads sculpted in granite by Damariscotta artist Carole Hanson.

There's more inside the visitor's center. The gardens recently installed a new exhibition, "Robert McCloskey: From the Drawing Board to the Page."

It includes 17 original drawings and sketches that have been in a library archive in Kansas for almost half a century. In addition, the exhibition also features more than 80 reproductions of drawings from McCloskey's private sketchbooks.

Collectively, they show the evolution of story and character for children's books, including "Blueberries for Sal," "One Morning in Maine," "Make Way for Ducklings," "Burt Dow: Deep-Water Man" and others, said Heather Wade, archivist of the May Massee Collection at Emporia State University in Kansas.

The collection includes 3,500 pieces by about 80 children's book artists, including a trove of material from McCloskey.

The exhibition illustrates how McCloskey transformed his initial sketches for his books into the final paintings and drawings for their covers and pages, Wade said. The Boothbay exhibition marks the first time some of the work has been shown in public.

When Schon began pondering her sculpture, she called Wade and asked to borrow copies of the drawings.

She wasn't after just any old bear. She wanted McCloskey's bear, and she wanted to know how McCloskey arrived at his final images for the bear.

"I wanted to get inside his head and understand how he thinks," she said.

Schon has sculpted most of her life, and over the past 30 years or so has focused her efforts on two aspects of being an artist: philanthropy and public art. In 1980, Brandeis University commissioned her to design a benefactor pin to raise money for the library. This venture proved enormously successful. It allowed Schon to do small sculptures that organizations could use to raise money for their fundraising campaigns.

She's doing the same for Coastal Maine. In addition to offering a maquette of "Sal's Bear," the gardens are also selling zipper pulls and necklaces based on Schon's original sculpture.

The public art aspect of Schon's career speaks for itself. Most of her work these days ends up in public settings, like the gardens at Boothbay.

"It's just such an honor to be a part of a project like this," she said.


Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at: bkeyes@pressherald.com


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