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Silvia Chavez mural links college campus to T station

The “999 Cranes” mural marks a vibrant path between Northeastern University and Ruggles MBTA Station.

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Silvia Chavez mural links college campus to T station
A detail from Sylvia Chavez’s “999 Cranes” mural. P hoto: celina colby

Walking to the train can now be as inspiring as a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts, thanks to Silvia López Chavez’s new mural, “999 Cranes.” Stretching along a path between Northeastern University and the Ruggles MBTA station, the large, vibrant mural is meant to inspire and encourage.

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A detail from Sylvia Chavez’s “999 Cranes” mural. P hoto: celina colby

A detail from Sylvia Chavez’s “999 Cranes” mural. Photo: celina colby

The image depicts two hands holding a paper crane amid a collage of shapes and patterns. All of Chavez’s work is site-specific, and here she incorporated the themes of transportation and education. “I wanted to convey that a journey is never in a straight line,” says Chavez. This could be a physical journey on the train, or the journey Northeastern students go through to complete their studies.

Japanese legend says that if you fold 1,000 paper cranes, you will be granted a wish from the gods. Chavez offers up one of those cranes. “It’s either the first of the 1,000 or perhaps the last, depending on where you are in your journey,” she says.  Chavez often uses paper and origami as a teaching tool in her art workshops. The symbol serves the double purpose of representing creativity and the creative process.

Aesthetically, Chavez marries a figurative representation of this ancient legend with a very contemporary background style. Transportation symbols and a fantasy landscape jump from the wall in bright, pop-art colors and two-dimensional styles, further highlighting the more intricately drawn hands and crane.

The whole process took Chavez and her team of volunteers three-and-a-half weeks to complete. For a mural project, Chavez first spends some time in the location, experiencing the space so she can interpret it artistically. Then she sketches on paper, then on the wall, and then comes the paint. Chavez has had a lot of time to get to know the Fenway area, as she’s also collaborating with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to produce a series of workshops based on the museum’s “Life, Death & Revelry” exhibit.   

“I believe public art has the ability to make a strong message about who that community is,” says Chavez. “And it’s accessible to everyone — you don’t have to speak art lingo to appreciate it.”

Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun was so pleased with the mural, he’s asked Chavez to continue it along the entire length of the wall. The original mural plan covers only the central section of the space. The extension is expected to be completed in late fall, and Chavez says it will continue the theme of journey.

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