North End artist, Nathan Swain, is one of those people that walks through the city and looks for ways to spruce up its drab infrastructure. To the amazement of many, he has already completed several projects. First, he painted large-scale murals for the “windows” of the Salem Street powerhouse building. More recently, he beautified the concrete wall in the courtyard of St. Leonard’s Church on the back of Assagio’s Restaurant. On a smaller scale, he could not help himself when he saw a concrete planter dropped by the city on Salem Street. He painted it and added flowering plants. None of these projects have been “paid” work for Swain. When his artistic juices get going, he just wants to do it.

Nate recently shared his creative ideas for the Greenway corridor. The artist has mastered a technique of printing images on large-scale waterproof canvas sheets that can withstand the impacts of outdoor Boston weather. The printed images last about 10 years and are easily installed. The canvas sheets also provide flexibility because they can be replaced or removed.

Harbor Garage on Atlantic Avenue

This is a photo simulation covering the Harbor Garage with an image of Little Brewster Lighthouse looking towards Boston with the skyline in the distance. “Chiofaro would never go for something like this because he would rather build his 600 foot tall Ikea bookshelf/CD holder-looking buildings,” jokes Swain.

North End Greenway Pergolas

Above is a photo simulation of what could be done to the North End Pergola until some vines have grown up on the bare steel structure. Printed panels of leafy vines hung between the beams would provide shade year round and last 5 to 10 years while the real vines get established. Also, some hanging plants on the poles would be a nice touch.

NStar Substation on Greenway Near Dewey Square

Above is a photo simulation of what could be done to cover the barren N*Star High street substation on the Greenway side facing Dewey Square. The image is of Arnold Arboretum framed with an arch from Lincoln Wharf building.

Nate can be reached at or-nathan@hotmail.com.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Maybe it's just me but I don't think covering everything in photo-shopped canvas/vinyl is necessarily a good idea or that it actually beautifies things. The North End is interesting and beautiful because it is authentic not because it looks pretty.

  2. This seems counterintuitive to me. It's a city, it should look like a city. Why cover up these things? If you are, why not hire an artist to paint a mural or some more important statement than just using photoshop to make it look like something it isn't.

  3. The one that provides shade on the Greenway is a great idea. That area gets direct sun all day. I never understood the purpose of those steel brown beams.

  4. I think the Salem Street murals are just charming. I'm not sure I like the lighthouse, but the shade murals would be very, very welcome, and the Nstar Substation is pretty cute, too.

  5. I'm a big fan of well-done graffitti and these are a higher form of it.
    These ideas are certainly worth a try. Who will be paying for them?
    I do like the one for the garage, since it does face the sea.
    Love the Lincoln Wharf arch 'tho I cannot understand why the Arnold Arboretum would be highlighted. It has nothing to do with our inner-city landscape. The trellis in Christopher Columbus Park, which is definitely an integral part of the area/neighborhood, would be a better choice.
    Just one woman's thinkin'.

  6. Nate, when I saw the painted cement planter/parking area-thing in front of the late Doms, is it condos now? off Salem St., I thought I recognized your handiwork. And I'd wondered about the insti-vines on that ugly wall along the Peace Garden behind Assagio's. Good to know who authored.

    Interesting idea for the vineless pergola on the North End Parks "porch." I've often wondered whether weaving thin rope or something might provide vines something to cling to so that we'd be able to grow something to shade the porch naturally as we were promised during all those hours & hours of planning meetings All the vines I've ever seen have been trained up a netting of some sort, but then, I thought the highly paid Greenway conservancy folks would have hired horticulturists who would know about things like that…

    Along with your ideas for spaces, I can think of quite a few alleys that some street art would go a long way toward sprucing up & maybe even making safer/reclaiming for the neighborhood. Oh, & how about a cool utility service box campaign like I've seen in some neighborhoods? Most of our street light & traffic light boxes are really boring beat-up silvery metal.

  7. While this effort to 'beautify' the city might be well intentioned, I think it's at best misguided and limited in perspective. Rather than decorating, embellishing, or gilding with something fake, I'd strongly suggest that Boston would be better served by efforts to preserve, maintain, and perpetuate its distinguished authenticity.

  8. Interesting idea for the vine less pergola on the North End Parks "porch." I've often wondered whether weaving thin rope or something might provide vines something to cling to so that we'd be able to grow something to shade the porch naturally as we were promised during all those hours & hours of planning meetings All the vines I've ever seen have been trained up a netting of some sort, but then, I thought the highly paid Greenway conservancy folks would have hired horticulturists who would know about things like that…

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