‘The Worker’ by Brian Herrmann

“The Worker” by Brian Herrmann

At the forefront of Lowell’s historical gateway downtown resides a sculpture titled “The Worker.” This work, constructed in 1985 by Elliot and Ivan Schwartz, depicts an Irish canal worker widening the canal ways of Lowell.  This work, along with several others, was placed into the city in order to embody Lowell’s history and culture through its own urban experience.  The historical context behind this work, combined with specific qualities of the location, allows this sculpture to portray the significance of immigrant groups to the development of Lowell and the modern world today.

Hugh Cummisky, the man portrayed in the sculpture, was an Irish immigrant laborer who led a group of thirty workers from Charlestown into Lowell in order to widen the Pawtucket Canal, as well as construct several textile mills and worker housing.[1]  It was these men who laid the groundwork for the city of Lowell to become the first American industrialized city.  “Without that critical foundation of the canal workers, the mills’ power looms and machinery could not have worked and begun the fascinating history of industrialization in America.”[2]  These men were also the initial immigrant group to inhabit city. This laid grounds for several other immigrant groups to settle into Lowell throughout the city’s existence. The numerous immigrant communities of Lowell, who are all intended to be represented in “The Worker,” are just as crucial to the development of modern Lowell as the Irish who built it, creating new economic and cultural opportunities for the city and contributing to the revitalization of Lowell from financial decimation[3].

One of the key aspects to understanding the importance behind the sculpture is the work’s location. While the sculpture depicts Cummiskey widening the canal walls, the work is not centralized around a main waterway downtown. Although a small canal resides near the sculpture, the work’s location creates a space which allows the viewer to focus more on the urban architecture of the city.  A site surrounded by buildings allows an observer of this work to actually visualize what the Irish workers accomplished through their labors in the canals.  The work’s location emphasizes the contributions of immigrant groups in Lowell’s history and present, crediting these diverse communities for their labors by allowing the viewer to witness the modern city that arose from the efforts of these groups during the city’s development as well as its redevelopment.

Although there are numerous entrances into the city, the intersection of these streets is considered being the “historical gateway” into downtown Lowell.[4]  The sculpture resides directly across the street from the National Park Visitors Center, which once housed one of the primary textile mills of the city[5].  For those who travel this route entering the city, “The Worker” is the primary visible work of public art, which is fitting considering the historical context of the work.

[1] Forrant, Robert, and Christoph Strobel. “The Early Irish.” Ethnicity In Lowell. 53-55. National Parks Service. Web. 19 Apr. 2012. <http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/lowe/ethnicity.pdf>.

[2] Wykstra, Spencer. “Historical Marker “The Worker”.” Spencerwykstra.wordpress.com. Web. 18 Apr. 2012. <http://spencerwykstra.wordpress.com/2011/07/06/historical-marker-the-worker/>.

[3] Fix, Michael, Dan Perez-Lopez, Katherine Lotspeich, and Jason Ost. “A Profile of the Foreign-Born in Lowell, Massachusetts.” Urban.org. Oct. 2003. Web. 6 May 2012. <http://www.urban.org/uploadedpdf/410918_Lowell_MA.pdf>.

[4] National Park Service. Creative Signifier for the Lowell National Historical Park. National Parks Service. Web. 5 May 2012. <http://www.massart.edu/Documents/www.massart.edu/about_massart/urban_arts_institute/Lowell%20Visitor%20Center%20RFQ(1).pdf>.

[5] “Lowell MA.gov.” National Historical Park. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 June 2012.




One Response to ‘The Worker’ by Brian Herrmann

  1. M. Doherty says:

    Is the writer sure that this sculpture portrays Hugh Cummiskey? In all my years, I’ve always understood the sculpture to portray a typical worker, not Hugh himself. I might be wrong but I’d like to know where the sculptors said it was Hugh. Would appreciate this info.