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A flock of ceramic birds created by Louisville artist Rita Vali as part of the Hopeful Birds Project.
(Courtesy of Rita Vali)
A flock of ceramic birds created by Louisville artist Rita Vali as part of the Hopeful Birds Project. (Courtesy of Rita Vali)

As the world has grown quieter during this season of staying at home, many people have become more aware of the birds in our Boulder County backyard, from robins heralding spring to the lyrical call of the meadowlark in grassy open spaces.

Louisville artist Rita Vali in her studio. Vali is the creator of the Hopeful Bird Project as “a way to bring art, kindness and smiles to each other” during a tough time.(Courtesy photo)

For residents of Louisville’s Mesa Point neighborhood, birds have taken on a special new meaning as an unusual flock made an appearance in late April.

These colorful birds don’t sing. They don’t even fly. They bring joy just by being, connecting people during a time of staying apart, which was the reason for their creation. And more are on their way to other parts of Boulder County.

The Hopeful Birds Project was hatched by Louisville ceramic artist Rita Vali as “a way to bring art, kindness and smiles to each other” during a tough time.

Vali, who has lived in Mesa Point for 22 years, hand crafted an initial flock of 21 shiny ceramic birds to scatter throughout the neighborhood. All were “hidden” within 2 feet of sidewalks. Via Mesa Point’s Google Groups website, families were invited to take a walk in search of a bird, care for it for a few days, then return it to rejoin the flock at an appointed time. The birds gathered again beneath the neighborhood sign, “just as we will all gather again once social distancing is over,” Vali said.

Once a bird was found, its caretakers were encouraged to enjoy its presence— perhaps making a nest for it, entertaining it, taking it on a bike ride — and to send photos to Vali to share on Facebook, or to post them on Instagram with the hashtag #hopefulbirdproject.

Vali sees the project as a metaphor for what people are experiencing right now. “The birds gather as a flock, they disperse to homes, and return to the flock. As we shelter in place and distance ourselves … we are all in this together.” And we will come together again.

The project has brought Vali’s family closer together, too. Her husband, JR Ketelsen, has helped to promote it with a dedicated Facebook page: and newly launched website, which seeks to inspire more Hopeful Birds flocks in other places. Their 19-year-old son, Max, who is home while wrapping up his freshman year at the University of Colorado Boulder, is working with his mom to make the birds.

Each is a unique creation, and takes almost an hour to produce. They are first sculpted by hand from stoneware clay. Once the general features are formed, the birds are textured with various pottery tools. After an initial firing, colored glazes and stains are added. Then, a final coat of clear glossy glaze is applied and the bird goes into the kiln for the final firing.

The original flock was dispersed and reunited in the Mesa Point neighborhood. The second time the birds were distributed, Vali invited finders to pay the joy forward: to give their bird to a friend in another location, with instructions for its care, or to keep the bird and make a donation on its behalf to a local nonprofit such as a food bank or community arts organization.

Seeing each bird as part of something bigger is an important element of the project, Vali said. In addition to her 20-year career as a professional artist, Vali teaches ceramics in various settings in the Boulder-Denver area, including workshops in public schools. There, she has seen the impact of collective creative efforts.

“I’ve done several elementary school ceramic projects where kids made components that became part of a very large mosaic or installation that an individual could not have done alone. Seeing their little piece of art as part of something much larger can be powerful for children.”

In this regard, a single ceramic bird can extend hope more widely when it “migrates.” “Having the birds be part of the flock is an important component of this project — to share the gift, to connect us and spread the kindness,” Vali said.

As word of the birds has flown beyond Mesa Point, interest has grown in bringing Hopeful Birds to other neighborhoods, and other artists are joining in. Caroline Douglas, a sculptor who is a member of the Boulder Potters Guild along with Vali, is making a flock for her North Boulder neighborhood, as is Arabella Tattershall in Longmont.

Four-year-old twins Vivian and Lucy Marston with their Hopeful Birds.(Photo courtesy of Rita Vali)

A collection of Lafayette neighbors is banding together to commission a new flock of birds from Vali, which they plan to host. Other flocks are “incubating” in Lyons and Hygiene, ready to emerge soon.

Mesa Point residents are pleased to know the delight they have found in their neighborhood’s experience will soon be winging its way to other locations.

“The Hopeful Birds Project was a fun distraction from the quarantine time,” said Jessica Marston, one of Vali’s neighbors whose twin 4-year-old daughters, Vivian and Lucy, loved finding the birds, making a nest for them, and dressing them up.

“It was a fun way to meet other neighbors,” Marston said, as they ran into families who were also searching the streets. “I hope other neighborhoods will mimic this inclusive idea, too.”

To learn more about the Hopeful Birds Project, including how you can secure a flock of birds for your neighborhood, visit the project website And follow Hopeful Birds on Facebook to see where new birds have fledged.