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Nahant artist, 97, pays homage to Lynn history

Nahant sculptor Reno Pisano’s Frederick Douglass sculpture will celebrate the racial equality pioneer. (Spenser R. Hasak)

LYNN — Frederick Douglass enthusiasts are putting the final touches on plans to create a lasting tribute celebrating a pivotal time in the racial equality pioneer’s life in Lynn.

Douglass was 23 years old and living in the city in 1841 when he was physically removed from a train in Central Square after refusing to sit in a segregated car. 

“They manhandled him off. The people of Lynn were incensed,” said Douglass researcher Wendy Joseph.

Plans are moving forward to turn the vacant lot at Exchange and Union streets near the overhead commuter rail tracks into a park named for Douglass with a sculpture honoring him in the park. State Sen. Brendan Crighton and state Reps. Dan Cahill and Peter Capano crafted legislation naming the park for Douglass, and the bill is headed to Gov. Baker’s desk for his signature. 

“It’s pretty much a done deal now. You grow up in Lynn learning about Douglass and always have that sense of pride of him living in Lynn,” said Crighton. 

Sculptor Reno Pisano created the Douglass tribute that will be the park’s centerpiece. The 97-year-old Nahant resident sculpted a Douglass likeness in 1997 depicting Douglass speaking on Lynn Common. 

Pisano said he had an enduring interest in sculpting Douglass as a young man living in Lynn and he began working on the project two years ago even as Douglass enthusiasts organized a 2018 tribute marking Douglass’ 200th anniversary of his birth. 

“All the pieces of historical work I do I refer to as devotional works: I participate in them beyond the work involved,” Pisano said.

Pisano created his roughly two-foot by two-foot relief sculpture in clay. He modeled the sculpture on a Douglass photograph and said the biggest challenge he faced involved replicating the exact expression on Douglass’ face.

“If I did an injustice to it, it would appear flat,” he said. 

Pisano said he is not seeking compensation for creating the sculpture. But he needs to raise roughly $9,000 to pay for the sculpture to be cast in bronze at a foundry and to buy a stone base for the sculpture. 

He is working with Douglass enthusiasts, and Lynn residents Joseph and Julia Greene are helping Pisano identify private donors interested in paying for the work’s completion. Crighton credited City Councilor-at-Large Buzzy Barton and Ward 5 Councilor Dianna Chakoutis with their support for the Douglass park. 

The former Central Square farmers’ market lot is the product of a land swap between the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and the developer building 332 apartments on the waterfront off the Lynnway across from North Shore Community College. 

Minco Corporation now owns the Central Square lot and the firm will pay for its transformation into a park before DCR takes over ownership. 

Crighton did not have a timeline for the lot’s transformation into a park and Minco Managing Director Eric Loth could not be reached for comment. 

Crighton worked closely with Pisano in 2015 to dedicate Pisano’s sculpture honoring Bud Fowler, the first African-American professional baseball player, at Fraser Field. Fowler played in 1878 for the Lynn Live Oaks. The sculpture is in Fraser Field’s Locust Street parking lot. 

 

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