For more than 20 years, a 17-foot-high steel sculpture has perched atop a hill at Mills Pond Park.
During concerts and other events, families picnic while children play, often running through its opening, or “gate.”
For others it’s a daily sight on the way to work.
But many who simply walk or drive by the park may not realize just what "Canton Gate" represents or how it got there.
In the early 1990s, the now defunct Canton Creative Arts Council, a group that worked to provide arts programming in the schools and community, wanted to thank residents for supporting the organization.
“We decided as a council that we should give back to the town,” said Anne Duncan, who was a member of the organization and its 25th Anniversary committee.
The organization launched a large public effort to solicit entries by artists interested in creating a piece a public artwork.
The council received more than a dozen miniature models. One was from Hartford-based artist and teacher David Boyajian, now a well-known sculptor whose work includes a 10th anniversary tribute to the victims of Sept. 11.
In 1991, the Canton organization recognized his talent, which eventually led to his first publicly commissioned sculpture.
After receiving Boyajian’s submission, he was interviewed by members of the council.
“It think it was David’s presentation that convinced us,” Duncan said. “He was so committed.”
Boyajian spent a lot of time in town researching for the piece, Duncan said.
Like so many artists, he found inspiration in the Farmington River and the Collins Company factory complex.
“I was really impressed by the river and the architecture of the mill,” Boyajian said.
Boyajian also saw the work as one of transformation. The story of a shuttered factory and a town that reinvents itself is found throughout New England. And like so many places, that story has many chapters and is still being written.
“That element of transformation has always been there,” Boyajian said.
The artist incorporated much of that in the piece. The "gate" or openness in the work represents the transformation, including his growth as an artist.
“It allowed access and passage,” Boyajian said. “That’s sort of what that time was for me.”
A limestone block, pulled from an old brownstone site in Hartford, represents the river bottom while images of fossilized fish, bronzed fish and birds speak to the town’s past, present and future respectively.
Boyajian worked on the sculpture in pieces, which were then trucked to Canton on a summer’s day in 1992. Duncan said it turned out to be quite an event, complete with a truck break-down, logistical problem solving and welding theatrics.
“It was quite a night,” she said.
In September of that year, the piece was formally dedicated after being gifted to the town and accepted by the Board of Selectmen.
Duncan said it’s still great to drive by and or see pictures of the sculpture.
“It’s kind of gratifying to see it up there on the hill,” Duncan said.