SF Bird Encounters – The Mural


Last year I was commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission to create a mural for the new terminal at San Francisco International Airport. This is the result. The images are birds I photographed in the Bay Area and they are printed onto wood, cut out by hand, and inlaid into the background, which is also all hand cut.


The Golden-Crowned Sparrow in the center has playable wings. The secondaries are xylophone tines and are tuned to the notes in the Sparrow’s song.


Here is a close-up of the wings.


The benches are also xylophones and are tuned to the Sparrow’s song. You can actually sit on them too. Heartfelt thanks to Siobhan Ruck for her beautiful illustrations which adorn the two benches.


The mural is dedicated to Dr. Peter A. Kitundu, my father, who passed away early this year while I was completing this artwork.


So the next few posts will give some insight into the process of making a musical bird mural by hand. It was exhausting and sometimes frightening, stressful, but also rewarding, and eventually very satisfying. I learned a great deal.

13 responses

  1. Congratulations. That’s a beautiful work of art. I’ll visit it next time I’m at SFO.

    November 13, 2011 at 4:42 am

  2. bill james

    Beautiful! Photography as art and tribute…

    November 13, 2011 at 6:15 am

  3. Jamie Whittington

    I was stopped in my tracks by this mural the first time I was in the new terminal at SFO– Awesome. Look forward to hearing more about how it was made.

    November 13, 2011 at 7:52 am

  4. Linda Conley

    I recently rejoined your blog and am in awe daily at the range and quality of your art and vision. Feel lucky to have a few of your photos on my wall.

    November 13, 2011 at 8:28 am

  5. Beautiful! Next time I drive up to see family in the Bay Area we’ll visit this work of art.

    November 13, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    • Sadly it is only available to passengers with a boarding pass.

      November 13, 2011 at 1:34 pm

  6. John Wall

    That’s fantastic, Walter. Superb and original use of photography! Can’t wait to see it in person sometime.

    November 13, 2011 at 3:34 pm

  7. The World Is My Cuttlefish

    Stunningly creative. It must give such pleasure to travellers. .

    November 13, 2011 at 5:10 pm

  8. Grace Ruth

    Spectacular work of art! Is it in the International Terminal? If so, it will be a while before I get to see it in person.

    November 13, 2011 at 6:02 pm

  9. Walter, Thanks for the beautiful and fine mural. Two of my favorite subjects: Birds and Woodworking (see my website: MichaelReadyWoodworking.com). Next flight out of SFO, I’ll get there early and go find the mural.

    I thought I’d bring to your attention the fact that the Monarch butterflies have gathered at Natural Bridges in Santa Cruz (other places too but this is where I often go to see them). I was out a few weeks ago along the coast and made this 5 minute video you might enjoy: https://public.me.com/michael.j.ready. Wear headphones. Natural bridges is just a 1/4 mile from the surf line up a narrow and short eucalyptus canyon. Quite amazing and tranquil place; you’d enjoy it. The Monarchs are about 2-3 minutes into the video. They cluster in the eucalyptus till the temps warm to 55-60 degrees F. Sometimes, the clusters explode into color as they all take off at once. The yellow is the underside of the wing, the orange is the top side.

    The file is large, about 200MB. Hate the youtube compression. Just download, watch and delete. Also, I love shooting birds, especially in flight which is so hard to do.

    November 13, 2011 at 8:08 pm

  10. Jen Joynt

    Wow! That is beautiful! Looking forward to seeing it one day.

    November 14, 2011 at 9:50 am

  11. Sarah

    I am late in catching up on posts from your blog. I wish I knew to look for this in Terminal 2 when I flew over the holiday. I may actually specifically try to book on Virgin to get back into Terminal 2. I wish you peace to you and your family as your grieve the lost of your father. This is a beautiful work of art instrumentation in his honor.

    December 30, 2011 at 8:15 am

  12. EilisDoe

    Amazing …. the idea, the passsion in realizing it, the location (thanks to airport management …) I will tell about that some other place …. how knows … Maybe the terminal will be not the only place to see such an amazing and fantastic opera … it will be great !

    April 18, 2012 at 7:26 am

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