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Something to Crow About: The Story Behind a Palo Alto Monument

3 mins read

Photo Credit: Sylvi Herrick

A property at 1150 University Avenue has garnered a lot of attention since 2019. The house itself is not outrageous; in fact, it’s quite charming. Some might say that the house is “for the birds,” especially given the three large crow sculptures that sit outside. At seven feet tall, one sits atop the roof, while two others stand amid the lush green entrance, welcoming the admiration of passersby in Palo Alto.

Sylvi Herrick built the Crows Project at the start of 2019, pulling her inspiration from the local area. She said, “There are a lot of crows in Palo Alto and Menlo Park. I remember reading an article that said there’s a big crow problem in Palo Alto. I thought that was really funny because I think there are some other issues that are more important than that.”

She continued, “It’s interesting that crows love Palo Alto and Menlo Park. They have so much symbolism in history; a lot of times they’re seen as negative, but I sort of interpret—the more that I know about crows—that it’s really just because they’re so intelligent.”

Herrick shared, “My mom is a refugee from Estonia, so I have always grown up with this feeling that borders and boundaries and human migration are very fluid.” 

Herrick’s Journey with The Crows

After she created the trio of crows in St. Augustine, Florida, Herrick embarked on a cross-country journey in order to share her art with a variety of people. “Creating the work on one side of the country and taking it across the nation while stopping in different towns that were along the border felt like a really interesting way to explore the border of the United States and Mexico.” Herrick transported the crows in  an open flatbed truck and put them on display  in New Orleans, Louisiana; Austin, Marfa; and El Paso, Texas.

Herrick explained, “The place where I really wanted to stop was El Paso because that city is truly on the border with Mexico. So many people there live on one side and work on the other. Families go back and forth across the border. So when people are talking about borders and human migration, I felt that El Paso would be a really interesting place to talk to people about what it’s actually like to live there—instead of just having information from the newspaper.”

Eventually, the crows made their permanent stop in Palo Alto, where Herrick has her studio. Herrick said, “I like places like the Bay Area that are crossroads where there are all these different cultures and histories that interact with each other.”

“Most of my work comes to me like a very strong three-dimensional vision,” she said. “ I sit there in my studio and try to figure out how I can bring it  to life. I feel like the older I get, the more confident I am to act on that intuition.’”

Herrick plans out The Crows

Herrick said she faced many challenges in making her artistic vision a reality. “It would have been great to make the crows out of  bronze or something heavy, but bronze is a really expensive material and I also wanted them to be movable. 

Moving the pieces also proved difficult. She explained, “I was going through areas that ended up having super high winds, and they were all tethered down; I had to be absolutely sure they weren’t going to blow the whole flatbed over. So I had to drive really, really slowly.” Despite the obstacles she faced on her cross-country journey, Herrick achieved her goals as an artist: sparking conversation and making connections in different communities.

 She said, “The crows were in an open flatbed, so everywhere I went people could see them, even when I was getting gas or something like that—and that was the point. I had so many conversations with people who were curious and wondered what the birds were all about.” 

Herrick shared, “The older I’ve gotten, the more I feel that art should be for everyone. It is just such a pleasure when art is out in public spaces and in unexpected places. So I felt like I would take advantage of that idea to bring it to all these different towns and places where people weren’t expecting it along the road. I was able to have these little pop-up shows, sometimes with just a person or two, which allowed me to have a very fluid space.

Herrick believes having art in public spaces is an important way to spark conversation in the community. Herrick says, “People came to talk to me, and some said, ‘I hate crows’, or, ‘Why are you doing crows?’ and that gave me a chance to see if I could connect with every single person that I talked to whether they were being positive or negative.”

We, as humans, can learn a lot from crows. Building connections in communities is not just for the birds. Herrick said, “I found that I could engage in meaningful conversations, so that gave me hope about us as humans and our ideas of human migration. Given the fact that our world is constantly changing, whether we like it or not, we should always be searching for ways to connect with each other instead of trying to block each other.”

Check out Herrick’s website to learn more about her work, including her current project Lights of Conversation.

Eileen Liu is a junior in her second year of journalism. She enjoys covering local businesses in the community and environmental issues. In her free time, she enjoys photography and painting.

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