Project Description

Pawtucket Falls Garden Sculpture

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Lowell National Historic Park, Lowell, Massachusetts

The Lowell Historic Preservation Committee invited Michael Singer to propose a public art project along a canalway within Lowell National Historic Park. The site Singer chose was Pawtucket Falls Island which was constructed during 1846-1848 as part of the Northern Canal waterworks. The Island is at one of the National Park’s most spectacular places, the site of Pawtucket Falls where the Northern Canal is separated from the Merrimack River. The site and its historic walkway had been neglected and remained overgrown for many years.

The Pawtucket Falls Island Garden Sculpture recreates the pathway and plantings bringing visitors to the Island’s upper wooded locust grove. The sculpture elements are composed within two enclosed areas within the locust grove. The thresholds of these areas are enhanced with additional plantings and bounded by low stone walls covered in native vines. The ground plane is activated with large patterned precast concrete slabs that are articulated with granite, bronze and copper inlays. These sculptural platforms are sunken slightly, raised slightly or become the container for water collected after rain events, encouraging the growth of moss. There is a place to picnic just outside the first enclosure overlooking the Merrimack River from a higher elevation within the woodlands. Exiting these woodland spaces at the highpoint of the Island, the pathway returns the visitor the Canal Walkway at a point where the Northern Canal and Merrimack River merge.

Singer interacted with the multi-cultural community of Lowell to discuss creating a place that has shared meaning for diverse cultures yet evokes specific associations that could related to each of these groups. For the National Park visitor, the Lowell experience is centered on the industrial revolution, the historic demonstration of engineering design overcoming and taming natural conditions. The Pawtucket Falls Island site, originally designed by James B. Francis in the 1840’s, was conceived as a promenade and a parkland environment providing relief for the residents and workers from their industrial surroundings. Within a month of the project’s completion there was an unfortunate major failure of the weirs at the north end of the Great River Wall, followed a few days later by a collapse of a portion of the canal wall on the island itself. Shortly thereafter the National Parks Service and Boot Hydro raised concerns of possible injury to visitors and the Island has been closed to visitors since that time.

Artist: Michael Singer
Singer Studio Project Team: Sterling McMurrin, Karol Kawaky, David Hyman
Photography: David Stansbury

Pawtucket Falls Garden Sculpture