Strolling through Boston, it’s easy to spot the sculptures that tourists congregate around and snap pictures of during the summer months. But what people don’t see when looking at the bronze or stone pieces is the story behind them, and what they represent. Joseph Gallo, author of “Boston Bronze and Stone Speak to Us” is the exception.
With a dream of writing a book detailing the stories behind Boston’s abundant public sculpture, Gallo’s comprehensive guide is now very much a reality. “There hasn’t been a book like this in 75 years,” said Gallo, who worked on it for six years, conducting his research by sifting through Massachusetts Statehouse archives, newspaper articles, books, and the Internet.
Unlike other books on Boston’s statues, “Boston Bronze and Stone Speak to Us” is inviting and lively, much like the statues themselves, which seemed to come alive with the animated way Gallo described them. “This book is not just stagnant statues, they speak to us, and you have to listen to their whispers,” he said.
In college, Gallo minored in history and art, two consuming passions that were suppressed because he had to work and make a living. When he moved to Lincoln Walk about seven years ago with his wife, Gallo reveled in the art and history surrounding him.
“I was walking through the streets and saw all these monuments, and I realized I didn’t know much about them. So I looked at old books and the photos were horrendous. The photos were black and white, and the text was boring…I got into it out of ignorance,” he reflected.
But Gallo’s encounters with monuments he lived amongst but knew nothing about is no foreign feeling to a great majority of Bostonians. People walk the Freedom Trail, perhaps out of a sense of obligation, but the journey is meaningless unless there is an understanding of its significance, and the statues that are meant to help portray that.
“Boston Bronze and Stone Speak to Us” is an exciting guide that informs readers of not only what they’re seeing, but why it’s important. “I tried to make my book colorful and meaningful for people who come. Newer statues emit feeling, while older statues are rigid, and I want people to know the history of why that is. I added maps and put stars to reflect the pages of where statues are, and broke everything up into neighborhoods so you can take these sections and not be overwhelmed by the city of Boston,” Gallo said of his work.
Speaking in between sips of hot chocolate at Caffe Paradisio on Hanover Street, Gallo dissected some of the sculptures in his book, piecing together art and history with each animated word. Gallo’s favorite statue is Paul Revere, and not just because of the gallant way he sits atop his horse in the North End. “Like myself, he was an entrepreneur,” Gallo started. “He made all the bells in New England, and so many different buildings still have them. He was also a patriot, and I, too, love my country.”
A botanist by trade (he works at Plantscape Designs, Inc.), Gallo gives life to plants. So it is no wonder that he is fascinated with statues expressing lifelike qualities. “The twisted aspirational monuments, the ones that are contorted in different ways are the monuments that have real life. They’re scattered all throughout Boston. I particularly like the Hungarian Freedom Monument where the Stamp Act occurred. It’s a beautiful twist with the mother and father, and the other one is the Aspiration of the Great Spirit in front of the Museum of Fine Arts. It’s an Indian looking upwards and it represents what they believed in, which is nature and the power of multi-gods,” he said.
“When you see a modern one [statues], it’s inspiring, it’s alive. A lot of the sculptures incorporate characteristics of what the city was moving towards and personalities of who they’re after, like mayors,” Gallo added.
Symbolism is another praised characteristic of the sculptures and statues. And with Boston being one of the oldest cities in the United States, you can expect that there are no vapid monuments without representation.
“Quest Eternal on Boylston Street is a 700 ton monument of a naked man stretching. It symbolizes the aspiration of Boston for the time period when the Prudential Center was the tallest building. It was Boston’s first 50-story building, and the statue symbolizes development. Boston became a modern city whereas before it was more Gothic,” Gallo said.
But who were the sculptors erecting these progressive, symbolic statues, and where did they come from? The answer, Gallo divulged, lies in a city with deeper history than Boston’s cobbled streets could ever know—Rome, Italy.
“Rome has a direct influence on American sculpture,” Gallo said, who admits to Rome being his favorite European city. “Rome also has a direct influence on Boston. There’s a connection between Boston sculptors and Florence and Rome, and can be seen in MFA (Museum of Fine Arts). The Democratic donkey on School Street was done in Florence. There’s just so much,” he said.
Speaking in between sips of hot chocolate at Caffe Paradisio on Hanover Street, Gallo dissected some of the sculptures in his book, piecing together art and history with each animated word.
“These things, although they’re monuments, have an influence on people, on architects, on mayors, to build and have an aspirational freedom and forward movement,” he said.
Like the monuments, Gallo also possesses a yearning to move forward, and will do so by creating more books. “I want to get to a second edition and put in more monuments that are coming up in Boston. I enjoy telling others the significance of monuments with respect to the history of Boston, and telling it through photography and art. But I want everything to flow. Harbor Fog, by Ross Miller, was too contemporary for first book. It’s a monument of granite stones from original wharfs, and in center are LED lights that blink off and on in different colors to represent harbor lights, and mist comes out to simulate fog, so when you’re walking, it seems like you’re walking through the harbor. It’s things like that that I’m going to be putting into the second book.”
Gallo would also love to extend his reach to Washington D.C. and New York City, which are cities he believes lack a colorful guide to their monuments. Even still, nowhere else in the country has monuments like there are in Boston, according to Gallo.
“Everything done in Boston was later done in other cities,” he said. “Boston is a European city. What people don’t understand is the reason why Boston was the most successful plantation is because of the harbor…It became an international trade center.
John Winthrop saw the importance and value of the deep waters of Boston Harbor, knowing the wharfs would be the stimulus for mercantile trade. If Gallo were to create his own statue, it would be placed in the location of Boston’s early success, and it would be a remake of Paul Revere.
“The Paul Revere statue is mythical, historical, and patriotic. I would put it where the Long Wharf Marriott is. Historically, that’s what I would do, in a more dynamic form,” Gallo said.
Gallo’s enlightening guide to all of Boston’s monuments serves as a way for people to look at statues not with empty eyes, but with a twinkle that can only come from knowledge of the history behind them. And if there is one thing Gallo knows, it’s Boston’s history.
“Boston is America, America is Boston” is Gallo’s trademarked phrase. “The concept of America started in Boston,” he said. “It was the first city to have churches and selectmen and towns. You had all these firsts. That statement has a lot of scholarly meaning.”
Although Gallo himself is not a scholar, historian, or artist, he is an educator for all of the above. “And that’s why I wrote this book,” he said.
“Boston Bronze and Stone Speak to Us” is available on Gallo’s website pdiplants.com/BBSweb/, local bookstores in Boston, and Boston’s Historical Society.