Fantastical Historical Nautical Instrument

Maritime Stories

On the east side of the Square near the intersection of Sun Court Street and Moon Street and the former Seamen’s Bethel (now Sacred Heart Church) is the fourth sculpture. The site is also in front of the former location of the Second Church of Boston where the 17th Century amateur astronomer Reverend Increase Mather was based. The Fantastical Historical Nautical Instrument is derived from nautical navigation instruments, and its triangular sextant base echoes the triangle of North Square. But whereas a marine sextant is used to measure space, our instrument instead surveys time.

The sculpture is a complex viewing and navigation instrument, with an assemblage of scopes offering imaginary views, rather than the more representational views of the North End Story Map and the 1798 North End View relief sculpture. Each scope aims towards what appears to be an abstract pattern, but when the viewer peers through the scope’s eyepiece a coherent image is revealed. The abstract patterns are a form of visual distortion called oblique anamorphism. An anamorphic image appears correct only when seen from a specific oblique angle, to which the scopes are appropriately set. The scopes also have explanatory text, and they point in the actual direction of the sites represented in or associated with the anamorphic scenes.

The scopes show the following: Sarah Josepha Hale, Founder of Seaman’s Aid Society; Onesimus, an African born man held as slave by Cotton Mather, who introduced an African inoculation process which was used in smallpox-stricken Boston; Rev. Edward Taylor of Seamen’s Bethel; John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald and Rose F. Kennedy who was born on Garden Court just steps from North Square; and the SS Andrea Doria, an Italian ocean liner wrecked off Nantucket in 1956.

The sculpture floats on sculpted water supported by three figureheads representing Saint Rosalia, whose effigy has been housed in Sacred Heart Church; the figurehead from the fated ship the Maritana which sank in Boston Harbor; and a portrait, initials G.G., representing the beloved – and sometimes unsung – women who fed the North End through restaurants and home kitchens.

The sculpture was made in consultation with Ben Edwards, author of One April in Boston, and our Advisory Panel including John Pregmon, Prof. James Pasto, Thomas Damigella, Maria Martin, and many others.