WOODS HOLE – In 2010, when former state representative Eric Turkington attended a talk and first heard about Rachel Carson’s Woods Hole connections, he was amazed at the extent of those connections.
“It kept piling on. She worked at MBL. Her first contact with the sea was here,” said Turkington. “Then we heard how she was the first woman to go out sea on a U.S. Fish and Wildlife boat.”
This pioneer and the creator, essentially, of the modern American environmental movement, had deep roots in Woods Hole but no one seemed to really know. So Turkington along with Susan Shephard, a community activist who also attended that talk, decided they would do something about it.
In July, they helped unveil a statue of Carson, the author of Silent Spring, a 1962 book that shined a harsh light on the harmful effects of pesticides.
“The statue itself was Eric’s idea,” said Shephard, who was the first executive director of Highfield Hall, among her many titles.
Carson, said Shephard, “was an important person in this town, and nobody really knew.”
So Turkington and Shephard formed a committee and they went to David Lewis, who has created iconic historic sculptures on the Cape, including John F. Kennedy in Hyannis.
It was important to honor Carson, said Turkington because of her connection to the community as well as her contribution to society. The book “Silent Spring,” he said, “was like an H-bomb when it hit the public… It was even discussed at Kennedy news conference.”
Turkington told of how Carson was suffering from the cancer that would kill her while her book was being dissected by the public. She never disclosed her cancer. “That’s courage with a capital ‘C’,” said Turkington.
And Shephard pointed out that, as a writer, Carson “became famous to the lay public as well as to the scientific community.”
And now, with such a large population going through Woods Hole, often to Martha’s Vineyard, they will know of the connection Carson has to this little village.
From Idea to Statue
“One of the first things we came across was a photo taken at Sam Cahoon’s Fish Dock with Rachel holding her notebook and looking out to sea,” said Turkington. With a photo of Carson in Woods Hole as a guide, Turkington and Shephard set out to raise money for the project.
“Everywhere we went, people got excited about it,” said Turkington. So they formed a committee, and reached out to the community, especially the Woods Hole scientific community.
The committee met with and then commissioned Lewis to create the statue. In agreement, the statue was designed to look like the photograph. The only difference is that Carson has her back more straight in the statue than in the photo, and her look is almost a smile.
“She looking out at something she likes to look at,” said Lewis, “and there’s a little bit of a pleasing look on her face.”
It takes a long time to create a sculpture, said Lewis. “The procedure is you get some money to start and when a sculpture is done in clay you ask the committee to come and look at it.”
That’s what happened with the Rachel Carson statue. “I know in a nanosecond their reaction to it,” said Lewis. “When Eric and Susan walked downstairs to my studio and saw it, I knew something was wrong. Susan said, ‘It’s her chin.’ “
Turkington, a longtime politician, explained, “Whether you’re a politician or whatever you are, you can have an opinion about what something is supposed to look like. He could’ve taken offense,” said Turkington of Lewis, “but he didn’t.”
Instead, under the watchful eyes of Turkington and Shephard, he went to work. “I had her too masculine,” said Lewis. “They were dead right.”
Shephard added, “It was fascinating to watch him work with tools that look almost like dental tools so subtly changing the contours of her face. And it was mind boggling that he was chatting to us the whole time he was shaving off infinitesimal pieces to narrow her chin.”
— Brian Tarcy