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When artist Esmé Shapiro moved into her Brooklyn apartment, she couldn’t have imagined that just a week later she’d hardly be leaving it. Sheltering in place can take an emotional toll, and when you don’t have the comforts typical of a lived-in home (the perfectly styled nook, the sorted-out morning coffee routine in the kitchen, the bedroom that feels like a cozy nest), it can be even harder. So when her quarantine began, Shapiro decided to create a mural.
It wasn’t her first time painting on her walls—as a teenager, she frequently added images and icons to her bedroom, including an illustration of an “incredibly strong woman with a beehive” whom she saw as a symbol of resilience. As a children’s book author, Shapiro frequently uses symbols—including small protective figures she calls light beams—to convey deeper emotional meanings in her work. So to make her new home feel like the safe haven she needed it to be, she picked up her paintbrush and got working.
Her original decision was to draw another strong woman, similar to the one who had watched over her in her childhood bedroom. “I thought, What could I paint that would ground the space and lift me up?” But as she worked, she started to see another (literal) window of opportunity: She scrapped the original design and painted an archway to the universe over it, filling it in with a starry sky and three “light beams” that act as guardian angels.
The whole process was finished in about five hours, during which she burned her favorite piñon incense and listened to classical music radio. (“It’s nice to tune into something that other people are probably listening to as well,” she says.) For Shapiro, painting is a way to escape from the stress of daily life and express the images she sees in her vivid dreams—which is why she considers this mural a window into another world. “I try to bring art into my home that can lead me to a joyous place within myself,” she says. “Now every night I go to bed and feel a sense of protection above me.”