Chicago murals: Budlong Woods Branch library mural symbolizes immigration, metamorphosis, threats to books

With pages turning from parchment to petals, and monarch butterflies soaring over colorful ceramic flowers and a garden below, the latest mural spanning Chicago Public Library’s Budlong Woods Branch is enough to make drivers on Lincoln Avenue stop the car and take it all in.

“It’s not only paint. It’s something more,” says Pilsen muralist Hector Duarte, who was commissioned to create the piece titled “Learning to Fly.”

The West Ridge library, at West Bryn Mawr and North Lincoln avenues, is in the 40th Ward, one of the city’s most diverse. “Every single person here is a migrant, and the symbol for migration is a butterfly,” Duarte says.

Library Branch Manager Tom Stark says the mural was commissioned “to rejuvenate the reading garden,” where the library hosts outdoor events among wildflowers and other plants growing around the building. What transformed, he says, is “the kind of mural that never fades to the background. It inspires joy over and over again.”

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Mural artist Hector Duarte worked with neighbors on two summer days in 2022 to create the piece at the Budlong Woods Branch of the Chicago Public Library.


The mural was dedicated in July 2023, after Duarte spent years during the pandemic planning it and working with community members who crafted the ceramic flowers, insects, birds and other natural wonders at its base, inspired by the garden that grows below.

Neighbors of more than 20 different ethnicities and ages 3 to 92 connected over clay on two summer days in 2022, when they sat together outside and created pieces for a mosaic that spans the bottom of the mural.

Ald. Andre Vasquez says the mural “helps to show how reading opens up the creativity in all of us and takes us places.” He calls it the “Budlong Bookend,” as it sits at one end of the Lincoln Avenue North Arts District.

The mural’s book pages, open and fluttering across two outer spans of the building’s facade, transform into flowers and then butterflies in a type of metamorphosis that Duarte says represents the immigration of people from all over the world into the neighborhoods surrounding the Budlong Woods Branch.

The left side of the mural by Hector Duarte at Budlong Woods Branch Library in the West Ridge neighborhood shows one half of an opening book.

Genevieve Bookwalter

The mural also represents the metamorphoses of books as they have changed from the first pages made of rudimentary wood pulp to today’s tablet technology. Durate says he fears that technological change will prompt people to abandon books — “to start to forget or put books in the basement or don’t open them anymore. Knowledge is in the books.”

Tom Stark, branch manager for the Budlong Woods Branch, says that fear is real for him as well, but more as a political repercussion than a consequence of technology — “what libraries are faced with now with efforts to censor and efforts to break knowledge.”

Stark says he appreciates how the mural changes depending on how someone looks at it.

“It’s lit up at night. You’re looking at it from far away, you see the big picture, the butterflies, the blooming flowers. When you look up close you see more detail, pieces of the ceramics and the various hummingbirds, bats and flowers.”

“There could be snow on the ground in January,” Stark says. “When you see this lovely mural it inspires hope and happiness.”

Tom Stark, branch manager for the Budlong Woods Branch, says the nighttime view of the building’s mural gives a completely different perspective on the artwork.


Duarte says the glass between the two panels becomes another scene when the afternoon lights turn on.

“It only takes one moment for people to pay attention,” he says. When folks do that they will find hidden details in the mural, as well as the natural world. “When we pay attention we can start to make our garden.”

Duarte also wonders at the sense of connection he felt creating the mural with the diverse community that helped. “We think with the heart. Love is the most important thing for human beings. It’s the language for everyone.”

Chicago’s murals and mosaics sidebar

Chicago’s murals & mosaics

Part of a series on public art in the city and suburbs. Know of a mural or mosaic? Tell us where and send a photo to We might do a story on it.

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