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Free as a bird

Thomas Zaccheo ’58 makes Greenfield shine

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If you’re walking down Hope Street in Greenfield, Mass., look up as you pass the Greenfield Recorder building. Gleaming from the brick exterior is an installation by Tom Zaccheo ’58—a flock of birds, mid-flight.

A single metal bird affixed to a brick wall, with patterns that look like feathers

This recent installation is a part of the Hidden Canvas Mural Project, a public art initiative founded by Zaccheo’s grandson, Gabe. “My grandson asked me if I would be willing to create something for him,” says Zaccheo. “And you know, being a grandfather, I said sure.”

The retired gastroenterologist took up ceramics as a calming pastime during his years practicing medicine. “Sometimes people think that as a physician, you should be only interested in medicine, and you shouldn’t have any other outside interests,” he says. “But in order to be a complete human being, you have to have some other interests in your life.” Since retirement, he has put even more of his energy into his art practice, broadening from ceramics to sculpture and, most recently, metalworking.

Curved metal cut to look like birds reflects sunlight on a brick wall.

Though he admits that the scope of the project intimidated him at first, the 90-year-old forged ahead. He created a monumental installation—the culmination of 300 hours of work grinding and shaping aluminum sheets into 10 birds, which soar and shine on a brick wall on the aptly-named Hope Street. As the day progresses, the statues’ shadows glide along the wall, bringing the birds to life. “What I wanted to do was to put something up that was uplifting, that people would enjoy seeing,” Zaccheo says. “When you walk down the street and you see a beautiful statue, it makes you feel good.”

Birds have been a recurring theme in Zaccheo’s recent work. “Birds to me represent freedom,” he explains. “I like the idea that we can all soar if we put our mind to it, and free ourselves from some of the bounds that are placed on us.”