In August, a formal reveal of the Frederick Douglass sculpture by 99-year old Nahant artist Reno ‘Ray’ Pisano highlighted the official dedication of a new Lynn park named after the prominent African-American abolitionist.
The park and Pisano’s work is adjacent to the location where Douglass was thrown off a train on Sept. 29, 1841 for protesting passenger segregation aboard the Eastern Railroad Company.
The incident led to the Massachusetts Legislature proposing a law prohibiting common carriers from discriminating against any class of passengers. The Eastern Railroad ended up abandoning second-class cars before the bill was passed in 1843.
At the Lynn celebration of his work, Pisano rose up from his seat on the stage to say a few words. The crowd gave him an ovation.
“All right, already,” joked Pisano, who thanked the Lynn administration, state senators and specific people who had helped him with this project.
“Today is Frederick Douglass Day,” the sculptor proclaimed, sharing his sentiment about the dedication. “He believed that we are all cousins. That, to me, it is a big deal. That was the essence of the Frederick Douglass purpose ― the oneness of us. We are not separated. We are of each other and that’s the thing that I felt most of all.”
Age can’t keep Pisano from carving, casting and creating art. A town resident for more than 40 years, he has an impressive resume of sculpting accomplishments.
His work, “Tectonic Eclipse,” graces the Nahant library’s lawn. Lynn is dotted with his creations, including a Douglass monument on the common and a carved tribute to Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy.
His sculptures and the material he works with reflect an inquisitive, impatient spirit that age and time have failed to tamp down. He switches from plaster to marble to granite to wood and epoxy, and his creations range from a massive likeness of P.T. Barnum to delicately rendered torsos.
For Pisano, art is not so much a process of creation as it is an exploration of the artist’s abilities.
“Most artists will produce work to impress others, but if that is your mission, it almost immediately compromises your objective,” he said.
The son of a barber and a bridal gown designer, Pisano grew up in Lynn’s Highlands, graduated from Classical High School, and attended the Boston Museum School for a semester before joining the Army and taking part in several World War II campaigns.
He went back to school after the war and went to work for General Electric’s household division, creating stylistic designs for appliances. The father of four was married to his late wife, Mary, for 67 years.
Before channeling his energy into art, Pisano funneled it into physical fitness to overcome the effects of rheumatic fever. He lifted weights at the old Lynn Market Street YMCA and swam a mile a day.
Like many Nahant residents, he owned a boat, but art has endured as his abiding passion. He has forged his own tools to create an implement capable of crafting clay or plaster into the creation he envisions.
His interest in Douglass was influenced by Tom Dalton’s book, “Frederick Douglass: The Lynn Years, 1841–1848,” and the illustration on its cover, Pisano said.
The sculptor incorporated into his work a description of the train incident and a quote from the famous abolitionist: “…justice must be done, the truth must be told, the wicked must be exposed, freedom and righteousness must be vindicated … I will not be silent.” The statue stands to the left from the “Stories of Lynn” mural, which was completed in 2014 and which also features Douglass presiding in the middle of a group of prominent Lynn residents.
“This is way long overdue since Frederick Douglass has had such a footprint on Lynn,” said Nicole McClain, founder and director of the North Shore Juneteenth Association, who attended the dedication.
Andrea Gayle-Bennett, from the Lynn-Swampscott E.F. Gilmore Chapter of the Disabled American Veterans and a trustee of North Shore Community College, echoed the sentiment, saying “It is a source of pride for Lynn. You hear ‘Lynn, Lynn, city of sin’ all the time but look at all the wonderful things that are here in Lynn.
“It should be Lynn Lynn, city of him, and her, and her,” added Gayle-Bennett.
Frederick Douglass Park is now officially a Department of Conservation and Recreation public property, available for daily use and events. Beside the statue, the space features a wooden stage in front of the mural, a lush lawn and benches both in the sun and shade.