A&E

It's not your imagination: Large crow sculptures roost in Palo Alto

Artist Sylvi Herrick's 'Crows Project' uses birds to foster discussion on migration, borders and connection

Palo Altans are used to seeing crows flock to local neighborhoods, but three of the newest corvids in town may ruffle a few feathers. For one thing, they're 7 feet tall.

You-Me-We is a sculpture series by Palo Alto-raised artist Sylvi Herrick, who created the three large, fiberglass-and-steel crows and brought them on a journey from St. Augustine, Florida, to University Avenue, where they're currently nesting in the yard and on the roof of her mother's home (Herrick's home base when she's back in town).

"I'm very interested in work that speaks specifically to a place," she told the Weekly. "I had remembered that people were saying, 'Oh, there's a crow problem in Palo Alto.' So, I thought, 'I wonder why the crows are here?'"

The project led her to develop a strong appreciation for the clever, opportunistic and adaptive birds.

"When I started delving into more and more research on crows, I learned these are some of the most intelligent birds in the world; They work together in these complex social systems; they build tools; they have language; they're amazing!"

To Herrick, crows also can serve as a symbol of human migration, connection and innovation, and inspired her to create a discussion-raising piece of art that relates to themes she's long been interested in exploring.

"The issues of borders and boundaries, of human migrations. My mom is a refugee, my husband is an immigrant and my grandmother was born in Mexico," she said, adding that the idea of a border is a human-created, changeable construct. "We can see how much they (borders) affect people's lives for generations, depending on what side you're on."

She had the idea to use the whimsical crows, which weigh around 350-400 pounds each, as conversation starters with everyday passersby on her cross-country journey, the crows riding on a flat-bed truck and making stops in New Orleans, Louisiana; and Austin, Marfa, and El Paso, Texas, with pop-up installations on the way.

"It's a huge desire of mine to get art out into the world; not just inside a gallery space but as part of everyday life," she said. "I wanted to just show up and see people, talk about crows and this idea of human migration."

Palo Alto, she said, with its status as a hub for creativity and innovation, should be a natural place in which to brainstorm ideas for helping solve humanitarian and environmental issues.

"People are wondering why there's so many crows in Palo Alto. I'm also wondering if maybe they're in Palo Alto for the same reason that so many intelligent people from all over the world flock to Palo Alto," she mused. "Maybe there is something there."

The name You-Me-We comes from her desire for her artwork to bring people together.

"The three crows all work together. We're all individuals but we're all connected," she said. "That's sort of the Palo Alto thing, too. I think we can do more in Palo Alto with the technology and all the incredible things we have to bring each other together more."

She isn't sure how long the birds will stay on University Avenue, nor where they might be headed next.

"I love the openness of the possibilities of where they could go," she said, adding that she's considering making some smaller duplicates and hopes people interested in collaborating will contact her.

And what does Herrick's mother think of her yard becoming a place for public-ish art?

"She was supportive but she wasn't sure how it was going to go. But she's had nothing but positive comments. Everyday she's calling me with stories and some of them are really wild," Herrick said. "One person stopped and said that they're trying to turn East Palo Alto into Ravenswood, and there are three entrances from Palo Alto, so they should put one (crow) at each entry."

All along their journey, the birds, she said, "make people smile. That sounds kind of cheesy but it means a lot. Crows are universal connectors and they're also famous for being harbingers of things to come."

At her website, sylviherrick.com, Herrick keeps visitors updated on the project and invites the public to submit "crow stories" of their own.

As she states on her site, "There has never been a moment in time like this one, where we are knowledgeable and capable of the ingenuity to solve problems. If we take a moment to listen, maybe the crows have something to tell us."

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.

Comments

24 people like this
Posted by Sandy
a resident of Professorville
on May 8, 2019 at 10:48 am

I love this crow installation and the artist’s reasons for creating and sharing it! THANK YOU


16 people like this
Posted by Eli Pasternak
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 8, 2019 at 11:21 am

Those smart birds are also pests that are arriving in flocks, attacking our yards and are destroying our lawns and fruits, they poop everywhere and make noise. Sylvi is right, they are a subject of discussion but is this the type of discussion she's looking for? Anyway, congratulations for the art even when it's representing the dark side.


20 people like this
Posted by Louisa
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 8, 2019 at 12:00 pm

I feel lucky to have seen these beautiful birds on my drive to work this morning. I was very excited and happy to see them, and hoping they are a permanent addition. Crows are amazing, intelligent creatures indeed! Huge "thank you" and "Great job" to the artist. NOTE: I mistakenly hit the 'like" link on the rather negative post by Eli, above, but there was no option to "undo" the like. Sorry! Thanks again for bringing this joy to the neighborhood.


20 people like this
Posted by Scottie Zimmerman
a resident of Midtown
on May 8, 2019 at 12:09 pm

Scottie Zimmerman is a registered user.

I like crows, although I have noticed that they seem to be the dominant bird in Palo Alto. Wasn't always this way.

In my back garden one day, three adult crows were on phone lines making a terrific amount of noise. I cawed back at them, then noticed they seemed to be calling attention to a particular problem. I approached my back fence and spotted a young crow on the ground. Also realized my cat was on the fence, curious about the grounded fledgling. I picked up the "helpless" youngster and went to Wildlife Rescue (at Cubberly in those days). They asked me politely to return the crowlet to the area where I found it and place it in a nearby hedge or shrub. They assured me that the adult crows would provide food & protection until the young bird learned to fly. My cat was not a serious threat after all.

When I returned to my garden, the adult crows were gone. Then I heard squawking from trees a block away. So I held up the crowlet and made my own caw sounds. The distant crows heard me and came flying back to continue caring for the youngster. I placed him in the branches of my trumpet vine, where the adults could see him.

Three adults means parents + one. Apparently not unusual for crow families to have aunts/uncles assisting with care of baby birds.

Thanks for the sculptures!


10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2019 at 1:10 pm

If they work as a deterrent then I would love some in my neighborhood.

We didn't used to have crows around here, but now they are the most numerous species of bird. I like listening to birdsong, but as soon as a crow comes and starts cawing, the song birds quieten immediately. I am sure that there must be less song birds as a result.

I have also had groceries attacked by them.

Can we do anything to deter crows?


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 8, 2019 at 1:18 pm

West Nile Virus


13 people like this
Posted by Lori Hobson
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 8, 2019 at 1:46 pm

The art installation is awesome.


4 people like this
Posted by Wander3r
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 8, 2019 at 4:37 pm

@Scottie, Love your story.


37 people like this
Posted by Horrible birds
a resident of Green Acres
on May 8, 2019 at 10:43 pm

I hate crows. Ugly looking birds and so noisy and loud! Waking me up from my sleep too early in the mornings.


4 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 8, 2019 at 11:24 pm

Crows are bad luck.
My neighbors home in Palo Alto did not sell because a group of crows were circling above the home during the weekend of the open house (both days). For some strange reason, they would not go away.
The only thing which would make things worse for the family of this artist would be to add a fourth crow.
Four black crows = very bad luck.


7 people like this
Posted by WilliamR
a resident of another community
on May 9, 2019 at 12:19 am

Maybe someone could get Sheryl Crow or Counting Crows to give a performance there.


2 people like this
Posted by Dinner
a resident of Barron Park
on May 9, 2019 at 4:32 am

For those that like them, try eating them and you’ll discover the origin of the term… Disgusting carrion eaters.


13 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 9, 2019 at 5:25 am

Annette is a registered user.

Like the installation or not, ya gotta love how artists' minds think. To me, a crow is a crow. But this woman saw something more and ran with it. I think that's pretty cool.


8 people like this
Posted by sylvi herrick
a resident of University South
on May 9, 2019 at 12:24 pm

Palo Alto is the perfect place for crows! Why do we all like it? Why have so many intelligent, creative, determined, curious people flocked to the area? Often people view power as evil or inspiring - people love to use black and white concepts to deal with the fear of or reverence for power. Crows have been the theme of many fables, stories, novels, songs, bands, sayings - have you ever had to "eat crow?" In Game of Thrones, the crow is the messenger, as it was in Greek mythology where the raven was associated with Apollo. I love the comments - look forward to more! And by the way, it takes only a few minutes to look online for humane ways to get crows out of your garden. There are quite a few options. But be careful, crows have great memories and facial recognition like people do - if you are a jerk to them they can tell other crows, and their chicks about you :)


12 people like this
Posted by Old Crow
a resident of another community
on May 9, 2019 at 1:38 pm

Once again, Palo Alto outdoes itself with hideous representations of perceived art.

If the former wooden 'Friends' sculpture near the Embarcadero bowling lawns wasn't bad enough, the crumpled bike rack and unicorn horn on California takes the cake.

For a city that prides itself on elitism and good taste, art must have slipped someone's minds.


8 people like this
Posted by Megan
a resident of another community
on May 9, 2019 at 1:47 pm

Right on, sister! You have captured the magic of these birds and sent an inspiring message out into the universe - for humanity and all life on this planet. Let's each play our part in keeping that positivity going!


5 people like this
Posted by Try Laser Pointers
a resident of Downtown North
on May 9, 2019 at 2:51 pm

I have had very good luck using higher power laser pointers to harass the crows away from my house. You can order one from eBay for approximately $10. It doesn't hurt the crow, but I have found they really dislike them and they fly away immediately. Good luck!


16 people like this
Posted by Mama
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 9, 2019 at 6:00 pm

How about a large pile of crow poo installed under these birds? Then everyone will know what it’s like to have them roosting in your trees. They are disgusting!


4 people like this
Posted by Crows dive bombed my cat...
a resident of Green Acres
on May 9, 2019 at 9:39 pm


Those dang crows scared my grand daughter....hoping she won't have nightmares tonight.......OK art, time consuming hard work, but please take them into your backyard.


2 people like this
Posted by someone concerned
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 9, 2019 at 11:06 pm

too many crow haters. Yes, they are dominant and that could drive away the little birds sometimes. But crows just don't hang out in one place all day long. yes, they poop on my car sometimes. is that a big deal? All birds poop. squirrels poop. dogs and cats poop everywhere. People calling them ugly are really mean and senseless people to say the least. Just because they are black and dark and not cuddly doesn't mean they are ugly. These birds have a life and they want to be happy and raise a family just like all the crow haters.


18 people like this
Posted by Question for Sylvi
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 9, 2019 at 11:29 pm

Sylvi,
i am truly curious: how your mom, a refugee, got a house in Palo Alto, and in that location?


Like this comment
Posted by Lisa Bertelsen-Kivett
a resident of Downtown North
on May 10, 2019 at 2:24 am

Sylvi,

I immediately knew they were yours. Wonderful. Welcome home!

Lisa


Like this comment
Posted by mec
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 10, 2019 at 10:43 am

My wife shared these with me on a morning walk today and they are a delightful surprise. Thank you.


4 people like this
Posted by Nothing to crow about
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 10, 2019 at 8:23 pm


The "FLINTSTONE" house ~ the house you can see as you drive North towards San Francisco on your right hand side on Hiway 280~ have been fighting a dilemma due to artifacts on their property. I hope they stifle their City on trying to make them remove the atmosphere that surrounds their magical artistic home. As for those crows, Heckle and Jeckle at least gave us a smile,song and dance. The University Crows have nothing to crow about. Someone wants free publicity and I personally do not like the sight forced upon myself driving and getting distracted by them. Please remove them. Thank you.


61 people like this
Posted by New To Palo Alto
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 10, 2019 at 9:05 pm

Is it OK to place various sculptures in one's front yard?

My husband was going to check with the City to see if there was an ordinance or permit required...apparently not.

We just moved here from Arizona and would like to display our collection of outdoor art as well.

One of my personal favorites is the 'dozing Mexican' wearing a big sombrero and we used to line our driveway in AZ with those old style harness holders (i.e. the African American stable boy holding up a lantern).

My husband said it will require some additional electrical work in order to have them operational in our front yard along the driveway.






26 people like this
Posted by Jocko Is Historically Relevant
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 11, 2019 at 11:53 am

> One of my personal favorites is the 'dozing Mexican' wearing a big sombrero and we used to line our driveway in AZ with those old style harness holders (i.e. the African American stable boy holding up a lantern).

Are you referring to Jocko?

Web Link

I remember seeing them at Dinah's Shack on ECR when i was a child.

They were inspired by George Washington in gratitude to his stable hand during the Revolutionary War & were also used to help free the slaves during the Civil War.

We have one lying about somewhere in our garage & might consider placing it outdoors as well.


27 people like this
Posted by I Love Collecting Jockos!
a resident of Los Altos
on May 11, 2019 at 3:20 pm

My late grandfather in Georgia had these statues lined along his driveway and I always loved them.

I have about seven in my collection that I purchased in various antique stores throughout the south during the late 1970s.

There was time when we considered placing them in our front yard as well but were concerned that someone might steal them.


1 person likes this
Posted by Trouble ahead
a resident of Green Acres
on May 11, 2019 at 4:29 pm

Your Jocko's will have to have white faces, as per the ones that had to be repainted over on the ones that were by Dinah's Shack..


20 people like this
Posted by I Love Collecting Jockos!
a resident of Los Altos
on May 11, 2019 at 5:51 pm

> Your Jocko's will have to have white faces, as per the ones that had to be repainted over on the ones that were by Dinah's Shack..

Why is that? To alter the traditional depiction of Jocko would make it historically irrelevant and misleading. Like putting rabbit ears on Mickey Mouse. Besides, Jocko was black not white.

Jocko was George Washington's trusted stable boy who withstood a brutal blizzard to care for General Washington's horses during the Revolutionary War and is a longstanding tribute to Jocko's fortitude and commitment. In fact, General Washington was the one who initially commissioned the classic design.

Later I learned, these statues were used to guide slaves towards the Underground Railroad access points

To whiteface them would be an insult to African American history.


25 people like this
Posted by I Love Collecting Jockos!
a resident of Los Altos
on May 11, 2019 at 6:34 pm

>> One of my personal favorites is the 'dozing Mexican' wearing a big sombrero

Those are so adorable, especially in a low-maintenance backyard with gravel, succulents and or cactus. My neighbor down the street has one and it blends in nicely with the landscaping.

I came across this article on the web & these figurines are still very popular in AZ. Why the fuss, I haven't the foggiest.

Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Garden & Driveway Art
a resident of another community
on May 12, 2019 at 12:29 pm

@Trouble ahead

What's the big deal with a Jocko statue?

Although there are fewer on display, I've seen them all over the United States.

Is it because they are collector's items and prone to being stolen?


2 people like this
Posted by sylvi herrick
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 13, 2019 at 12:50 pm

This is in response to "question for Sylvi," as to how my mom, a refugee got a house in Palo Alto. Thanks for asking. Her story, like millions of other refugees, is the story of two major things. 1) Risk - situations involving exposure to danger. 2) Leaps of faith - an act of believing or attempting something whose existence or outcomes cannot be proved. Mom and her family escaped the Russian army during WWII and fled to Germany landing in a displaced persons camp for years. Risk/Leap of Faith. Eventually they were sponsored by relatives and took an American ship to Canada. Risk/Leap of Faith. She became a Neuropathologist and on vacation to Puerto Rico met my father, Tracy, and American.Risk/Leap of faith. They married and lived in Cleveland, Ohio where the pollution aggravated my mother's health. In 1970 they picked up and started a new life at 1150 University Ave, knowing nobody in Palo Alto. Risk/Leap of faith. Mom just finished a book which includes her escape which is available from amazon, "A Song of Survival: Memories of Estonian Life Spanning the Twentieth Century."

Silicon Valley might as well be called Risk/Leap of Faith Valley. For some, those are crucial qualities for survival. Here in Palo Alto, those are qualities that make this city great. Did I mention crows are risk takers?


10 people like this
Posted by We Have A Jocko Too!
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 13, 2019 at 1:02 pm

> Did I mention crows are risk takers?

So was Jocko weathering a severe blizzard to tend to General Washington's horses and except for maybe Van Gogh's venerable painting, Jocko is more famous as well.

Jocko was a real person. A crow is just a crow.

I've often wondered why people rarely display their Jocko statues anymore.


Like this comment
Posted by Jocko Is A Part Of Americana
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 13, 2019 at 7:18 pm

Years ago, there used to be a Barbie museum in downtown Palo Alto.

A Jocko museum would be kind of cool. There are several variants of this classic depiction and I would check it out.

A gift shop selling modern-day replicas would be a nice option as well.


2 people like this
Posted by Liz
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 13, 2019 at 9:13 pm

I love these. Whatever reason crows have become dominant here and across the country, it is not their fault. Whatever imbalance has allowed that to happen is likely caused by humans--reaping what we sew. The artist is a Paly alum and these are such a treat.


Like this comment
Posted by Betsy
a resident of another community
on May 16, 2019 at 5:42 am

I love this project and hope the crows return to my area soon. The message is very powerful and after reading comments, many have missed the point and goal of the project. Border conflict is a concern all around the globe and human lives are at stake. Please take a few moments to understand the deep message this art is reminding the viewer about in the world today. Many people live in a situation not of their choice and are desperate and must flee. Think about the message here. Great job on this project.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 16, 2019 at 6:35 am

^ Wherever people go, they always bring their problems with them.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Email:


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields


Be the first to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

What Would it Take to Get Tech Companies to Move Jobs Out of the Region and Is This a Good Idea?
By Steve Levy | 18 comments | 1,339 views

A Power Play
By Sherry Listgarten | 9 comments | 1,199 views

College Match
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 0 comments | 923 views

Palo Alto's Taverna to expand next door
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 871 views

Piles of artwork
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 471 views

 

Vote now!

It's time once again to cast your vote for the best places to eat, drink, shop and spend time in Palo Alto. Voting is open now through May 27. Watch for the results of our 2019 Best Of contest on Friday, July 19.

Vote