Somerville is unique for many reasons, but one of the most obvious is the sheer number of Bathtub Marys that dot nearly every street in the city. Lifelong Somerville resident Cathy Piantigini didn’t pay much attention to these distinctive statues until last year when an injury forced her to slow down by turning her runs into walks.
An employee of the Somerville Public Library for 20 years, Piantigini started using her breaks to walk from the Central Branch to Davis and back. On her sojourns, she noticed an abundance of Marys and started photographing them. Now she’s sharing them with the rest of Somerville on her blog, Bathtub Marys of Somerville, where she has chronicled hundreds of statues.
“Growing up here, they have always been around, but I never paid much attention to them,” Piantigini said. After capturing images of the Marys on her usual walking route, she wanted to branch out. Using a combination of old and new technology–a printed map and Post-Its as well as her iPhone–Piantigini has walked down nearly every street in Somerville.
“It became like math,” Piantigini said of tracking where she had walked. “It’s easy to be methodical with the streets, but I still don’t get all of them. I’ll probably be done within the next several weeks.”
To capture some of the Marys, Piantigini has to be quite bold. Sometimes the statues are hidden behind homes, which has led her down driveways to snap a photo. Most people aren’t at home when she’s walking around during the day, but she has encountered a few of the Mary owners.
One man on Boston Ave. was initially very suspicious of Piantigini taking a photo in his driveway, but when she explained the project he warmed right up and invited her in to get a better shot. She plans to leave a questionnaire at some of the homes in the hopes of learning more about the Mary owners.
And despite being a lifelong Somerville resident, Piantigini said she is amazed by how much she’s learned about the city while doing the project.
“I’ve found these beautifully quiet streets. After a crazy day and with the chaos in the city, you get into these neighborhoods and they’re quiet and abandoned because everyone is at work,” Piantigini said.
In addition to sharing her Bathtub Mary photographs on her blog, Piantigini will also be having a show at Sherman Cafe, where she’ll display prints of her favorite images. And she’s contemplated turning the whole project into a book to further share it with the public.
Piantigini’s many walks around Somerville have given her a close-up view of the changes Somerville has undergone recently. She’s a big fan of the farmers markets and the new independent businesses popping up all over the city, but wants to ensure that Somerville doesn’t lose the old-school vibe that makes it so special.
“It’s hard for me. I’m protective, in a way, of people who are afraid of change,” Piantigini said. “We need to listen to each other and hear what each other are saying cause change is going to happen.”
All images (except cover photo) courtesy of Cathy Piantigini.