Creativity in the Bayou City

Feel the Waves of Janavi Folmsbee's Rail to the Sea

The watercolor-like Washington Arts District mural sits right next to an active rail line headed toward the Port of Houston.

By Emma Schkloven February 11, 2021 Published in the December 2020 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Image: Amy Kinkead

Water is at the heart of artist (and impassioned marine conservationist) Janavi M Folmsbee’s almost 5,000-square-foot mural in the heart of the Washington Arts District. In bright hues meant to represent the diversity of Folmsbee’s adopted city, Rail to the Sea draws attention to rapidly disappearing underwater environments that face ever-growing threats under the rising tide of global warming.

Of course, we understand if you don’t catch this deeper meaning on the first glance at the piece, installed on the side of an old Union Pacific Railroad building, given the Mumbai transplant’s use of ethereal shapes, which she refers to as her “characters.” The lines running through these abstract forms are inspired by oceanic patterns of hard coral in the Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary, just off the Texas coastline, while the eye-popping reds, purples, yellows, greens, and, of course, blues are pulled from the vibrant scales of various tropical fish swimming throughout the Gulf of Mexico, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, and other bodies of water. Folmsbee’s watercolor-like brushstrokes add a layer of otherworldliness reminiscent of the seascapes below the crashing waves.

If you’re wondering about the piece’s name, the mural, which was dedicated to the city in 2016, sits right next to the active rail line that crosses Sawyer Street before eventually ending at the Port of Houston.