Public Art in Somerville Highlights History of deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln

Public art in Somerville has enlightened me in many ways in recent years. Here are two more examples, each enlivening my resources as a long-time volunteer guide at deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln. Both focus on fascinating aspects of Somerville’s Union Glass Company, owned by Julian deCordova through the early years of the twentieth century. One is among the seven vibrant panels of the Union Square History Murals on the building where Webster Avenue (55-50) and Prospect Street (70) intersect. The other is a bright sturdy signpost, among more than fifty others in Conway Park on Somerville Avenue. Here are photos, quotes, and notes to elaborate their connections.

Production of art glass peaked during the ownership of the company by Julian deCordova, a merchant and investor of Jamaican heritage. Under his leadership the company survived the tumultuous 1880’s and stayed in Somerville, while most glass making companies were moving west for cheaper fuel and resources.” ( quote from The Union Glass Company: A window into Somerville history by Mariya Manzhos for Somerville Times, 2015)

In 2002, Sametz Blackstone Associates was brought in to install 31 multicolored signs in Conway Park, creating a public space to tell the history of the area through stories and artwork. Now, the city has brought Sametz back to the 5.6-acre area off Somerville Avenue, adding 24 more educational signposts to the playground, which was built on the once-polluted site of an old smelting plant.” ( quote from boston.com Feb. 2004 article by Benjamin Gedan)

From David Fichter’s reply to my questions about the panels: “I wanted to trace the history of Union Square from colonial times ….. through the different waves of immigrants that settled in the area and the industries such as Union Glass that employed them.”

“The waning of interest towards iridescent and cut glass, as well as problems with internal management led deCordova to close down the factory …. He donated 61 glass pieces to the Smithsonian while many remained in his home museum in Lincoln, MA until the Corning Museum acquired them.”( quote excerpt from The Union Glass Company: A window into Somerville history by Mariya Manzhos for Somerville Times, 2015)

castle features of deCordova Museum building

“Travel and art were Julian and Lizzie’s passions. In an era before airplanes and automobiles, the two were rare tourists who traveled around the globe several times collecting what Julian described as “everything that took my fancy in every country of the world.” Inspired by their trips abroad and Julian’s own Spanish heritage, the couple began remodeling their summer home in Lincoln, Massachusetts in 1910 to resemble a European castle. Julian’s exposure to the visual arts abroad also influenced his management of the Union Glass Company, which under his stewardship produced ornamental glass to rival the quality of his European competitors.” (quote excerpt from Trustees deCordova history)

(L) part of deCordova Museum building (R) two views of DeCordova Ball (brick, mortar, slate, copper) by Lars Fisk

“DeCordova Ball is one in a series of outdoor spheres created by Fisk for deCordova’s exhibition On the Ball: The Sphere in Contemporary Sculpture (January 16—March 14, 1998). It abstracts and highlights the distinct neo-gothic revival architecture of the Museum building. The ball is layered with curved red bricks, lined with a slate roof, and topped with a copper turret—all custom-made by the artist to fit the eight-and-a-half foot sphere. “ ( quote from Trustees,deCordova Sculpture Park, De Cordova Ball)

I salute the research, funding, art, design, and community commitments in Somerville that have brought out history through works of public art, awaiting the gaze of anyone of any age at any time. The mural panel and park sign have led me closer to Julian deCordova’s “castle” in Lincoln and to Lars Fisk’s DeCordova Ball, an essential work of art in the Sculpture Park.

The Union Glass Company: A window into Somerville history by Mariya Manzhos for Somerville Times, 2015

David Fichter mural portfolio

boston.com Feb. 2004 article by Benjamin Gedan about educational signs in Conway Park)

Trustees: The History of deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum

Trustees,deCordova Sculpture Park, De Cordova Ball

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