Lemen | Sculptures enhance Nashua
For a small city, Nashua has a lot of art. We’re the only city in the U.S. that has the annual International Sculpture Symposium, which brings artists from all over the world to make and install art here. The avowed purpose of the event is "to create outdoor public art that engages the public, generates enthusiasm for art, and identifies Nashua as a unique and special place."
I think that the symposium does that well. I enjoy seeing the sculpture it brings us, and probably like everyone else in the city I have favorites. "Ghost Wilkie," which is high on the bank of the Nashua River behind the library, is stunning. It is wonderful in all seasons – with autumn foliage behind it, in the snow – and on a clear night, it can be breathtaking.
I also love "Frida Rota" on Temple Street. Such a haunting figure. There’s something amazing about her placement – you walk down Temple Street and are astonished by this stunning piece of art on the sidewalk. I’ve been wondering if Frida has been affected by the construction work near Indian Head Plaza, but I haven’t checked.
I do check in on our local sculpture. I was heartbroken when the moose on Main Street was damaged, and I still miss the floating face in the river. When my daughter Lucy was little, she would check the river to see if the face was nearby. It was always a better trip downtown when the face could be seen.
I am also fond of "Birth of Venus," known for years to the children of Mt. Pleasant as "The Tooth." (It has been called other names, but I won’t repeat them here.) The sculpture was originally placed in Foster Square, where the kids saw it every day on the walk to school. They loved it, but apparently their parents did not, so Venus was moved. It is now in Sargent Avenue park, where I watch happy children climb it. I don’t know how the sculptor would feel, but I have to agree with the residents: the original placement of that sculpture – in a neglected park near a bronze sculpture of a Civil War hero – was abysmal. It is far better where it is now.
Will that be the case for "Monument to Memory"? I wonder how John Weidman feels about the decision to move his sculpture. Or how the Thurbers, who sponsored the sculpture, feel. I thought placing it in the rotary at the entrance on South Main Street was a good decision.
Some people tell me that I think that because I like "Monument to Memory." I’ll admit it – I do. There are others who do not. They say it looks like a rusty clothespin. My daughter thinks it looks like the mathematical symbol for pi. That does not matter. Artists don’t create art to satisfy the public’s definition of pretty.
But when a city accepts art and places it on public space, it creates a relationship between the art and the public. Where art is placed is important. What I want to know is, who gets to decide where art is placed in Nashua? Is it the Art Commission? The Board of Public Works? People of influence? Neighbors? What happens when the city decides it needs to move a work of art?
And what about things that are not strictly art, but are ‘art-like’ in that they are installed on city property? Things like the clock and the old City Hall bell that used to be on Main Street? They were removed during the interminable sidewalk project, with a promise that they would be returned. Where are they now? Who is in charge of insuring that they be returned and placed appropriately?
Appropriate placement is important. One of my other favorite art pieces done by the Symposium is "Encounter," which is on Rotary Common. "Encounter" was placed there in 2009, along with "Path of Truth" and "Steps of Respect." The Rotary Common was much emptier then. Now, these sculptures share the space with the Holocaust memorial. I cannot help but think how much more effective "Encounter" was in a less crowded space. I am not saying that all of these pieces of art are not worthy of public space, I am just saying that we need to pay more attention to where they are placed and what we place near them.
I think Nashua has amazing sculpture. I also think it has amazing murals. Would "The Yankee Flyer Diner" mural be as effective if it were on the front of Holman Stadium? Of course not.
Same with sculpture. We need to pay attention to our art.
And where it ends up.
June Lemen is a freelance writer from Nashua. Email her at june @junelemen.com. If you want to know more about the International Sculpture Symposium, you can see all the sculptures and their locations at www.nashuasculpturesymposium.org/