The closing of museums during the pandemic put me in a state of art withdrawal. In search of a fix, I traveled to various locations in the Greater Boston area looking for publicly-accessible art. On several days in June 2020, I wandered around downtown Boston, looking for public art. One day, I walked along the tree-lined Commonwealth Avenue Mall in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood and photographed the various statues and monuments along the way. The Mall was designed by Arthur Gilman, using the new boulevards of Paris as his inspiration, and was created between 1858 and 1888. The dominant trees were American elms, although many of them have succumbed to Dutch elm disease; other tree species include sweetgum, green ash, maple, linden, zelkova, and Japanese pagoda. Interestingly, public sculpture was not a component of Gilman’s original plan, although it is now a highlight of the Mall.
The tour begins at the Public Garden (Arlington Street) and moves west to finish at Charlesgate East. For more information and photos, check out the website of the Friends of the Public Garden.
1. ALEXANDER HAMILTON (1865)
Sculptor: William Rimmer
Born on the Caribbean island of Nevis (and thus not eligible to be president), Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) helped draft the U.S. Constitution. He founded the Federalist Party, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the New York Post. He was George Washington’s secretary of the treasury and authored the nation’s early financial policies. He was killed in a duel with then-Vice President Aaron Burr.
2. GENERAL JOHN GLOVER (1875)
Sculptor: Martin Milmore
A merchant and fisherman who was born in Salem, Massachusetts and lived in Marblehead, John Glover (1732-1797) served as a brigadier general during the American Revolutionary War. The regiment he commanded evacuated George Washington’s army after losing the Battle of Long Island, and ferried Washington and his troops across the Delaware to surprise Hessian forces at the Battle of Trenton.
3. PATRICK ANDREW COLLINS (1908)
Sculptors: Henry Kitson and Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson
Patrick Collins (1844-1905) was an Irish immigrant who became a prominent Boston politician. He served in the Massachusetts Legislature from 1868-1871, in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1883-1889 and as Mayor of Boston from 1902 until his death in 1905.
4. VENDOME FIREFIGHTERS’ MEMORIAL (1997)
Sculptor: Theodore Clausen
Landscape Architect: Peter White
The memorial honors the nine firefighters who were killed on June 17, 1972 in a fire at the Hotel Vendome, which was located across the street from the memorial.
5. WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON (1886)
Sculptor: Olin Levi Warner
The most prominent Boston abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) published the anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator from 1831 until 1865 and was a co-founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society. He fought to give women the right to vote and supported other social reforms.
6. SAMUEL ELIOT MORISON (1982)
Sculptor: Penelope Jencks
Boston-born Samuel Eliot Morison (1887-1976) was a Harvard professor and distinguished historian, who specialized in naval and maritime history. Morison was also an accomplished sailor who recreated Columbus’s voyages using the original log books.
7. BOSTON WOMEN’S MEMORIAL (2003)
Sculptor: Meredith Bergmann
The Boston Women’s Memorial includes representations of Lucy Stone (left), Abigail Adams (center), and Phillis Wheatley (right).
Abigail Adams (1744-1818) was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts. She was married to second U.S. President John Adams and served as First Lady from 1797-1801. She served as informal advisor to John Adams, who consulted her on most matters. Abigail Adams was also the mother of sixth U.S. President John Quincy Adams. Her letters are the source of important information about the early United States.
Massachusetts women’s rights activist Lucy Stone (1818–1893) was a public speaker and writer who helped to organize the first National Women’s Rights Convention and establish the Women’s National Loyal League and the American Women’s Suffrage Association. She was also an abolitionist who campaigned for the passage of the 13th Amendment.
An acclaimed poet, Phillis Wheatley (c. 1753-1784) was born in West Africa, sold into slavery and brought to Boston, where she was sold to the Wheatley family. In 1773, she published Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, the first book of poetry published by an African-American, which received praise from many, including George Washington. Following the publication of the book, Wheatley was emancipated.
8. DOMINGO F. SARMIENTO (1973)
Sculptor: Yvette Compagnion
Domingo Sarmiento (1811-1888) was an Argentine writer, intellectual, and politician who became the 7th president of Argentina, serving from 1868-1874. Sarmiento modeled his country’s education system on that of Boston’s Horace Mann, and Argentina gave this statue to the city in gratitude.
9. LEIF ERIKSSON (1887)
Sculptor: Anne Whitney
Leif Eriksson (c. 970-c. 1020 CE) (also spelled Erikson) was a Norse explorer from Iceland, who may have been the first European to establish a settlement on continental North America. Some scholars believe that the settlement of Vinland described in Icelandic sagas corresponds to a Norse settlement, remains of which have been discovered in Newfoundland, Canada at L’Anse aux Meadows. The statue in Boston, which is the oldest public sculpture of Leif Eriksson in the U.S., was donated by patent medicine maker Eben Horsford, who mistakenly believed that Vinland was located on Boston’s Charles River.
For other Pandemic Art Adventures, check out these posts:
Boston Public Garden