From Boston Common and Public Gardens to the Back Bay Fens and Franklin Park, the so-called “Emerald Necklace” of Boston’s nine public parks remains patrolled by a vestige of history — the mounted unit of the Boston Park Rangers.
Now, a Rockport artist has left an indelible mark on the unit with her recent contribution of five original horse portraits.
The unexpected can happen in a chance meeting, which was the case when Phyllis Kaplan, a watercolor artist, was startled by the whinnying of a horse two years ago at a Jumper Classic event at Hamilton’s Myopia Hunt Club, where the mounted unit was participating. That’s when she met Chief Gene Survillo of the Boston Park Rangers Mounted Unit.
The artist regularly attends these equestrian events to take photographs from which she will later paint the scenes. The Boston Park Rangers Mounted Unit – separate from the Boston Police Department’s mounted unit, which has been disbanded — performs at ceremonial openings as an honor guard.
“I was entering the area when I heard this huge whinny and the ground shook and it scared the living daylights out of me,” Kaplan recalled. “I looked to see where the sound came from and it wasn’t from the competition ring.
“That’s when I saw the man on the horse nearby and I walked over to talk to him,” she said. “He explained that the horse was whinnying for his girlfriend,” recalled Kaplan.
The man to whom she spoke to was Chief Gene Survillo, who was on the mare Mystic — one of the six horses that make up Boston’s mounted unit. She learned that Winston was trying to get the attention of Mystic, the only mare of the group.
Kaplan took notes and photographs, out of which came a painting of Winston. Her teacher, Tom Sutherland, saw the work and urged her to contact the chief to tell him about the painting. Chief Survillo was impressed and inquired if Kaplan would consider donating the painting to be part of a fund-raising event for the service, which receives both public and private funds. She agreed and learned that her painting had sparked much interest at the benefit auction.
“The bidding was fast and furious, and a great donation came as a result of that piece,” said Survillo. “But what you can’t put a price on is the interest that it generated.”
Kaplan then decided she would paint the other five horses — named Liberty, Jacob, Baron, Frederick and the mare Mystic -- as a philanthropic effort to help with the upkeep of the horses.
Kaplan turned over the five artworks at the recent Boston Equestrian Classic at Myopia. In addition to the originals, Kaplan made copies of the artwork as a memento of the works that will likely become part of future benefit auctions.
“She’s a wonderful woman with wonderful talent and we’re benefiting from it,” said Survillo. “The prints will be proudly hung in our facility in Franklin Park for those who visit and for our staff.
“We are grateful for her work,” he added. “It speaks for itself.”
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3445, or at email@example.com.