Did you know our city is home to the largest piece of copyrighted artwork in the world? We’re sharing the story of Boston’s “Rainbow Swash,” a recognizable burst of color on a gas tank along Dorchester’s waterfront.
If you’re unfamiliar with the artwork, we’ll paint a picture of this local landmark.
Who created the Rainbow Swash?
That would be Corita Kent, a former nun, social justice advocate + artist who lived from 1918 to 1986. She left the order and moved to Boston in 1968, and was commissioned by the Boston Gas Company president to paint one of the company’s gas tanks in 1971.
It was a pretty tall order — 140 ft tall, to be exact. A team of 20 other painters helped to reproduce Corita’s eight-inch model design on the massive storage tank.
Corita is also well known for creating the 1985 postage stamp “Love,” which sold more than 700 million copies.
Why was the design controversial?
Corita’s background as a political advocate led many to believe that the profile visible on the blue swash was a portrait of Ho Chi Minh in protest against the Vietnam War. The artist never confirmed nor denied the claim, leaving an air of mystery around the blue outline.
Take a closer look next time you pass the tank to see if you notice a face or an abstract blob. Art is in the eye of the beholder, after all.
How can I see the artwork for myself?
While you can’t visit the tank up close, it’s easily visible from the highway. The local landmark is just a few miles south of downtown Boston on the east side of I-93. Fun fact: The tank moved to its current location in 1992, after the original LNG tank was torn down.
You’ll likely spot the vibrant pattern on local merchandise as well, including one of Pete Rogers’ Celtics jersey redesigns.