ROCKPORT — Millie the Millbrook Whale, a 10-foot-long sculpture by artist Thomas Berger, has beached herself in the middle of renovation work at Millbrook Meadow Park. 

Members of the Millbrook Meadow Conservancy joined Berger on Tuesday morning to see the installation of the park's latest addition by its Beach Street entrance.

"It was really nice to work with the people of Rockport," Berger said. "I'm very pleased to have a piece in town that's right by the ocean."

Millie is a "play sculpture," meaning it's sturdy enough for children to climb on. Her reinforced fins double as steps to her back and her tail is attached with steel pins to support extra weight.

Guests will get to meet Millie up-close and use the park's recently-installed playground set by June 29, after a sod path to both attractions is laid down and takes hold. SumCo Eco-Contracting of Salem is now planting grass in the meadow before the park's grand reopening on Aug. 17. 

The idea to bring a public art sculpture to the revamped park was brought forth by Barbara Sparks, a Millbrook Meadow Committee member and founder of its three-person Art + Play subcommittee.

"We felt it was appropriate for our community, as it's a community of artists," she explained.

Art + Play chose German-born Berger for the project after interviewing several artists, some of whom are based in Cape Ann.

"I was interested in fossils as a child," Berger said. "It's what got me into sculpting. I would sculpt the ones I couldn't find."

It wasn't until he moved to the United States 24 years ago that he began pursuing art full-time. Berger's previous work includes a fish play sculpture at Henry Law Park in Dover, New Hampshire.

"His work seemed to be the most appropriate," said Sam Colbourn, chairman of the Millbrook Meadow Committee. "And we figured we'd get a good value from his product," which is guaranteed to stay strong for 1,000 years, according to Sparks. 

The decision to make a whale sculpture was made with members of the Conservancy. Originally, the sculpture was going to be of Fluffy, a snapping turtle found at the park by a group of local children. Based on aesthetic reasons, the group ultimately decided to go with a whale.

"It's easier to make a whale look friendly than a snapping turtle," Berger laughed. 

Millie is made from Rockport granite. Last year, Berger and town Public Works Chief Joe Parisi began searching the quarries for the perfect rock.

"Finding a suitable rock isn't that easy," explained Berger. "(Parisi) showed me some stones but they weren't long enough."

After months of searching, the two found what they were looking for: a 12,000-pound rock at Johnson's Quarry. It was cut, picked up by crane and trucked over to Berger's studio.

The sculpture has been finished for a couple of months, Berger said. Inclement weather and timing with construction pushed the installation date back to this Tuesday.

Millie is just one of the many changes coming to Millbrook Meadow. Efforts to completely renovate the site started in 2013. Approximately $1.3 million of community preservation funds and an additional $545,000 of private donations have been used for the project, according to Colbourn.

The brook that runs down the middle of the park has been reverted back to its wider, natural pathway. In the 1940s, residents redirected the brook into a skinny drainage ditch that ran between a deep concrete passage. Now, the brook is less prone to flooding, and more guest-friendly with its revamped sand and rock banks.

Also, Mill and Frog ponds were dredged between October 2017 and February 2018. After 3,350 tons of sediment was removed from both, Mill Pond is now 6 feet deep and Frog Pond is 4 feet. 

"When the grass is grown in we'll be anxious to have everyone visit," Colbourn said.

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or mcronin@gloucestertimes.com.

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