The Shape of Loss

Sculptor Pablo Eduardo commemorates the Boston Marathon bombing victims in brass, stone, and light
Four twisting pillars with glass and light, and a stone monument, on Boylston Street in Boston. SMFA alumnus and sculptor Pablo Eduardo commemorates the Boston Marathon bombing victims in brass, stone, and light.
“Light was always part of the project,” said Pablo Eduardo, “but we moved from light as a beacon to light in the glass as a representation of the preciousness and fragility of life and how we dealt with an injury to our community.” Photo: Alonso Nichols
September 26, 2019

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On April 15, 2013, at 2:49 p.m., the first of two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, turning city-wide celebration into tragedy. The attacks, a block apart, killed three spectators, injured more than 260 runners and onlookers, and ultimately took the lives of two police officers. The toll would have been far higher were it not for first responders and private citizens who rushed to help in spite of danger. In the days that followed, the city united under a vow to be Boston Strong.

Both loss of life and ongoing recovery are now commemorated in art by Bolivian-born sculptor Pablo Eduardo, who earned a BFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts in 1994. The city commissioned the markers in 2017, following a review of concepts from leading public artists. Victims’ families played a key role in choosing Eduardo’s design.

“Tufts challenged me intellectually,” said Pablo Eduardo. “You can have all the technical skills you want, but if you don’t have something to say with them, it’s kind of meaningless, and vice versa.” Photo: Dana SmithAt the site of each explosion, glass spires enfolded in twisting bronze now soar; lights within illuminate them at night. Hewn stones from places special to those killed in the blasts make up smaller pillars, while bronze tiles are inscribed with the names of the fallen police officers. Sixty craftspeople from across New England contributed to the two markers, which were completed in August.

The son of a mother who studied pottery and a journalist father who was exiled during Bolivia’s political upheaval in the 1980s, Eduardo attended school in the United States and Florence, Italy, before deciding that Tufts and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts offered the curriculum he needed.

“Tufts challenged me intellectually,” said Eduardo. “You can have all the technical skills you want, but if you don’t have something to say with them, it’s kind of meaningless, and vice versa.”

So while developing his talents in the studio, he gained a lifelong mentor in Professor of English Michael Fixler, who introduced him to John Milton and Wallace Stevens, poets whose explorations of the fleetingness of life still resonate with Eduardo. He also persuaded James Morehead, professor emeritus of anatomy and cell biology, to admit him to courses at Tufts School of Medicine. Under Morehead’s guidance, Eduardo dissected cadavers, as Michelangelo and Leonardo had done, to enhance his ability to portray the human form.

Today, Eduardo has a studio in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where he usually mentors four to five assistants, and his sculptures, many of which depict historic figures, can be found on three continents. Tufts Now spoke with him during completion of the Boston Marathon markers about the role he and his team played in their creation.

Tufts Now: Many of your works portray a monumental individual from the past, like Ignatius of Loyola or Thomas More. How was the marathon project different?

Pablo Eduardo: In a sense, my team and I were doing the same thing, representing ideas. While not representing one person, the marathon sculptures are portraying a community. With Ignatius of Loyola, we were representing an individual, but we were also representing a whole community that lives by the ideals he embodied: education, hard work, community.

When it’s a historic person, we have to read as much as we can about them. You have to become almost totally obsessed with this persona.

But the marathon bombing is still very raw in people’s hearts. One of the things that was very hard was the families had to relive and lend their tragedy for us to learn from. Sometimes you would call someone up and it might be weeks before they would say, “Okay, I’m ready to do this.” You had to give them time to process. You had to be very patient. We had all kinds of deadlines from the city in the beginning, but everybody realized that the process had to be organic, with everyone feeling that this is a good thing.

“After I won the competition, we went through five or six different designs, working with the families, the city, the architect, and others,” said Pablo Eduardo. “We wanted to show how violent violence is and how it clashes with our ideals as a community, the things we work very hard to uphold every day.” Photo: Alonso NicholsOne very touching thing is we meet people constantly who say, “Thank you for doing this. How can we help?” Just yesterday at a marine supply store in Gloucester, I was buying bronze bolts, and they said, “We’re going to give them to you at cost because you’ve done a great job.” Everyone has been very, very kind, and it is a real community effort all the way. That was one of the very beautiful things about this project.

How can you go about incorporating so many voices without losing your artistic vision?

It’s a matter of finding one design that everyone is comfortable with. It’s always about gathering and mediating and, in particular, listening—and then maybe mediating again. You lead the team because you’re putting everything together and you do have a vision, but it’s not inflexible.

After I won the competition, we went through five or six different designs, working with the families, the city, the architect, and others. We wanted to show how violent violence is and how it clashes with our ideals as a community, the things we work very hard to uphold every day. That idea didn’t change, but the representation of it did.

Light was always part of the project, but we moved from light as a beacon to light in the glass as a representation of the preciousness and fragility of life and how we dealt with an injury to our community. I thought the community’s response to the bombings was very remarkable. We didn’t build walls. We adjusted our response to our values. We did not adjust or give up our values.

Are these the ideas you want people to think about when they look at these markers?

These are the things I think about and talk about with other people. When you design something well, people stop to look around at the different elements in the piece, and hopefully you inspire them to think about it and conclude more or less the same thing. In this way, some of my ideas as an artist can be transferred, kind of like a poem.