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At 95, the ‘Make Way for Ducklings’ sculptor is ready to unveil her ‘deep,’ ‘angry’ work

Nancy Schön’s latest piece stares down authoritarianism.

Nancy Schön, the 95-year-old sculptor best known for the iconic "Make Way for Ducklings" statue in the Boston Public Garden, has created a new piece commenting on the invasion of Ukraine. It depicts a boot with the fangs and snout of a Russian bear about to step down on a nightingale, the national bird of Ukraine.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Nancy Schön is best known as the artist behind the iconic “Make Way for Ducklings” sculpture in the Boston Public Garden.

Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings, plucked from the classic children’s book of the same name, have been waddling on Boston cobblestone — delighting tourists and toddlers alike — since the fall of 1987.

And much of Schön’s subsequent work — like “A Dragon for Dorchester” (a “scholarly, whimsical, gentle, lucky, and loving dragon”), “Friendship” (two prairie dogs in a near-kiss in Oklahoma City), and “Dancing Girl” (at a children’s hospital in Tel Aviv, Israel) — has a similarly playful quality.

But the sculptor’s public oeuvre is quite different from what she’s been crafting in private in recent years. This work is more political. More strident.

And at 95 — in a wheelchair after a recent fall but still sharp — she’s ready to reveal it.

The nightingale is a symbol of Ukraine.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

“There is another side to all of us,” she told me on a recent afternoon in her Newton living room. “It’s deep and angry.”

It’s the #MeToo sculpture in her sitting room. It’s the elephant’s trunk she’s shaping into the barrel of a gun, in a blunt reference to a Republican Party in thrall to the gun lobby.

And it’s the piece just back from the foundry — maybe the most striking of all: a commentary on the horrors of the war in Ukraine.

The sculpture depicts a Russian soldier’s boot — a bloodthirsty bear on the toe — poised to clamp down on a nightingale, a melodic bird with a special place in Ukrainian culture.

“Somehow,” she said of the war, “it just seemed so mean, so cruel, so unnecessary.”

A closeup of the fanged boot.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

The idea for the piece came as soon as Schön learned of Russia’s attack.

As a child, she’d watched newsreels of Hitler’s troops advancing into Czechoslovakia. “And my child’s eyes saw these boots,” she said. “Marching boots. Only boots. Even at that age, I knew what it was about. And that image stayed with me.”

All these years later, authoritarianism seemed to be on the march again — in Russia and in much of the world.

“There’s something going on,” she said. “There’s a disease.”

And it had to be identified.

Schön isn’t sure what she’ll do with the sculpture — or with the other political sculptures lining her shelves and filling her studio. But even talking about them feels liberating.

“Sometimes I want to tell people to forget the ducks,” she said, leaning forward in her wheelchair. “I’m not a fiddler with one string.”

The boot contains a hammer and sickle symbol, as Putin’s Russia recalls for Schön the old Soviet regime.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

David Scharfenberg can be reached at david.scharfenberg@globe.com. Follow him @dscharfGlobe.