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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."

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