Growing up in small-town Massachusetts, Nell Valle felt little connection to her Asian heritage. That changed when she moved to Boston for college in 2017 and began to explore the city’s vibrant Chinatown.
“Chinatown had been a place of great comfort and something new that helped me discover my identity a little more as a Chinese-American adoptee,” says Valle, a first year graduate student in our Arts Education master's program.
Now, Valle has left her own mark on a neighborhood that has come to feel like a second home with “Tigers Hot Pot Together,” a mural painted on Liuyishou Hotpot Boston’s picture window. The artwork is part of the Pao Arts Center’s annual Experience Chinatown Arts Festival.
Art school bound
Valle credits her high school visual arts teacher, Doug Lack, as the reason she pursued a creative career.
“I had been making art and creating all my life, I just never really thought of it as a path until then,” she says.
Inspired by artists ranging from Beatrix Potter to Charles M. Schulz, Valle decided to focus on illustration at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 2021.
She says her aesthetic draws from the natural world and her love of cartoons.
The Chinatown experience
Being selected as an artist was an unexpected boost for Valle.
“I've never felt more belonging and accepted than having my artwork in a place that I love very dearly,” says Valle.
I feel like I've always been searching for more diverse
narratives that are both like windows and mirrors.
Nell Valle, Arts Education master's candidate
She praised Pao Arts Center employees and fellow artists for supporting her as she installed her first public mural and expressed gratitude for being able to contribute to such a visible art initiative.
“I feel like I've always been searching for more diverse narratives that are both like windows and mirrors,” says Valle. Before moving to Boston, “I was one of the only Asian kids in my school and so I've always been looking for media and art that I could connect with.”
Back to school
Finding points of connection has been a driving force for the young illustrator, who entered the foster care system as a teen after her father died. It’s part of what drove her to pursue her master’s in education at Lesley.
Valle spent several summers as an art educator, most recently leading her own classroom and designing art instruction for her students.
“I found that I really enjoyed sharing this love of art and supporting students in their art making and their learning,” she says. “I was excited to learn and see if I could be an educator like my high school teacher.”
Valle almost came to our College of Art and Design as an undergraduate. “Lesley was always on my mind,” she says. “When I got the acceptance letters (for the master’s program) that was just like a beautiful bell ringing, like a new opportunity. This is going to open up a whole other world.”
Only a few weeks into her time at Lesley, Valle has already felt energized by her professors and the potential to help nurture the creativity of high school students in the same way her teacher helped her.
“I want to support them, not just in their technique and craft and discipline in art making, but I want to celebrate them as a person as well.”
Valle’s mural will be on display at Liuyishou Hotpot Boston, 702 Washington St, Boston, through Oct. 28. See her mural come to life on Valle's Instagram page.
Arts Academy unveils multistory mural designed by Lesley sophomore
A 75-foot mural by Natalia Reyes ’24 is now part of the Boston landscape.