Artist who painted butterfly mural for Taylor Swift debuts new work in Palo Alto


The charm of hummingbirds has descended on a wall in Palo Alto. The latest mural by renowned street artist Kelsey Montague, the artist behind the famous #whatliftsyou wings and Taylor Swift’s butterfly mural, opened to the public Thursday, Sept 14. Located in the heart of the city’s downtown area, this bright, joyous, colorful piece of public art is a gift to the community by a local business.

To celebrate 20 years as a Bay Area business, SkinSpirit — a skin clinic or “medspa” that was founded in Palo Alto in 2003 by a local entrepreneur Lynn Heublein and a Stanford plastic surgeon Dr. Dean Vistnes — commissioned the mural at its flagship Palo Alto location.

At the unveiling of the mural, Victoria Voorhees, head of marketing communications of the clinic said, “the mural is our gift to the community. It’s a piece of public art that everyone can enjoy.” It’s a way to thank the community, employees and loyal clients for their support over the last two decades. She said getting permission for the public mural from the city’s arts council was a straightforward process. The only guidelines were — no logo and no branding.

The mural is on the side wall of the clinic, at 701 Emerson St, Palo Alto.

With small cans holding different colors strewn on the ground, Montague perched up on a ladder lift to fill blue color in one of the wings of over a dozen hummingbirds sketched out a day before the opening. She describes the birds as “beautiful, bright, and happy.”

Deftly painting their long beaks and multiple feathers, Montague turned a nondescript wall into a fine work of art using simple store-bought outdoor paints, some acrylics, and paint pens for details in under three days. “I love being a part of something that is giving back to the community and this is just a really cool community,” she added.

Choosing murals as an art form wasn’t intentional for Montague. It developed organically when she was living in New York and started doing it for local businesses. Her sister Courtney, who is also her best friend, joined her to look after the business side and then things took off.

Talking about her creative process, that developed over 10 years of painting more than 300 murals in the U.S. and all over the world, Montague said she always wanted to paint hummingbirds and this project gave her the perfect opportunity.

“I have a bunch of crazy ideas, but the idea of hummingbirds and a hummingbird feeder as an interactive component was perfect for this,” she said. “They are all different and unique. Look at people — we’re all unique. It’s all about uplifting and supporting that. You just kind of love that inner beauty and it was great to add the hummingbirds into that concept.”

Montague’s personal website has a map of the locations of all her murals. “I love uplifting people. I love doing stuff that is positive,” she added.

Montague likens her work to a gift for someone. “So when you come across it, it’s like you know it’s for you and you like sharing that and sharing memories and bringing families to come out and interact. Just having someone smile is for me the most beautiful thing,” she said. “Life can be hard. Take a photo and be social. Be physically there and share a smile.”

This was her first trip to Palo Alto as an adult. Montague expressed pleasant surprise that the city is not as fast-paced as she had imagined. “This is a moving and shaking part of the world. I was really excited. I don’t think I was expecting such a beautiful, quiet place giving almost-like-a-village feeling. It’s like there is a canopy of trees. Everyone is so nice,” she said.

Quite impressed with the city, Montague said, “You can feel the creative energy here. It also just feels kind of calming.” As for the mural, she’s happy with it “because there are a lot of bright colors. And working with them now I definitely understand. It’s gorgeous here. I’m obsessed with the trees.”

She was glad Palo Alto is not like Colorado where she had to brave challenging weather conditions to paint a 100-foot-long mural. She has made a seven-story-high mural in Poland.

Acknowledging the way technologies like AI are changing the world, Montague said, “No matter what’s happening, if there is a way for me creatively to still bring people under the moment, it’s rewarding.”

She comes from a family of artists on her mother’s side. “I could draw on a wall. I could draw all day, every day.”

For her, it’s always been about “the community.”

She said, “That’s why I have been able to do so much all over the US and all over the world because for me this is about people. What will resonate with the community, the colors, the imagery, anything hidden there, the whole subject matter. So, for me it’s really about catering to that and drawing for the community.”

Talking about the mural at the opening, Dr. Vistnes, who is proud of serving his customers in an open, relaxing, spa-like setting, said the mural was beautiful and true to the spirit of the community. It’s all about “efficacy and value,” he added. The location of the mural has high traffic and visibility. “It’s been a blessing to have a place like this here in Palo Alto and to grow as a company,” he said.

Cara Fonteyne, who is associated with SkinSpirit said the mural was a nice surprise to her. “I love it! I really love it. I love the message that it sends. I think it really embodies who we are as a company and it speaks for Palo Alto, too,” she said.

Lasheil, who works at SkinSpirit said, “Hummingbirds are beautiful creatures. And if you notice, they only come around the time you wouldn’t expect them to. Hummingbird sightings are pretty rare.”

Nancy, another employee of SkinSpirit said, “Oh gosh! I just think it’s so inspirational. It’s so beautiful to look at. It’s already such a great place to work, the people and everything. This just adds to the whole experience.”

SkinSpirit’s “medspa” concept blends medical aesthetics with spa-like luxury and service. The business has nearly 40 locations (10 in the Bay Area) and 500 employees across the U.S.

Montague loves that once the public piece of art is created, she is gone. It’s everyone else’s. It becomes their piece.

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