On the first Saturday in January, fourteen friends, family, artists, and art-lovers joined me at the Calistoga Art Center to make hearts for the art installation in downtown Calistoga. (And another friend and artist who couldn't stay dropped in to say hi and see how we were doing.)
We painted art papers and cut hearts out of painted and printed papers all morning and into the afternoon.
Everyone came from near and far, from Calistoga, St. Helena, Napa, Santa Rosa, and Rohnert Park, to make hearts so we can all spread love and kindness a little further.
I so appreciate every one who joined me for this day!
My thanks to Laurie Grimes Ballentine, Roxanne Bell, Pat Branstetter, Kathy Coldiron, Kathleen Edson, Melisa Dooley, Ashley Duncan, Linnea Hall-Kennedy, Pam Jackson, Melisa’s friend, Linda Peirce, Lexi Reed, and Heidi and Michael Ticen, whose help, creativity, and positive energy and support for this project is invaluable!
When my family gathered after Christmas at my mother's home, I gave each person hearts to draw on, so that they could write their message of love to the world, and those messages would be part of the heart art installations in Calistoga. They drew with colored pencils and crayons and markers, and each created one or two hearts for the installations. I’m glad they'll be a part of this!
In Santa Rosa in December, I was driving by the downtown library, and stopped to pay a visit to Downtown Charlie Brown, whom I created for Peanuts on Parade: A Tribute to Charles M. Schulz, a public art project honoring the cartoonist whose work delighted me as both a child and an adult. (You can scroll down to see one of my Joe Cool statues, done a couple of years later, whom I visited another time).
I created Charlie in 2005 for the Courthouse Square Association, now part of the Downtown Association. He spent his first summer outside Sawyer’s News, then a couple of years at Courthouse Square, and has lived since then at the downtown library in Santa Rosa.
All around his shirt are buildings based on the architecture of buildings around and near Courthouse Square, inhabited by the Peanuts characters, dancing, having root beer, reading, getting lunch, making art, walking and talking, playing the piano — all straight out of the comic strip.
There are a lot of stories I can tell about my Charlie, but this is my favorite…. He’s blushing, you see. That pink note he’s holding says, “Meet me downtown, Charlie Brown. Signed, Little Red-haired Girl.”
All the artists worked together in a big warehouse, over the course of a week. Each day, a couple of hours in the afternoon were designated for people to come and watch us at work, and see the statues in process. I had my design drawing out for visitors to look at, and every woman who commented on it said something like, “Oh, how sweet!” while every man who commented said something like, “Yeah — like that’ll ever happen!”
At the end of the week, I was the last artist still finishing my statue. I’d worked and slept all night locked up in that warehouse, just me and all the Charlie statues. In the morning, Craig Schulz, Charles Schulz’s son, came in and walked over to see how I was coming along. When he got to the back of the statue, he stopped, pointed at a character who was getting lunch at a deli with Charlie Brown, and exclaimed in surprise, “Where did you get that picture of the Little Red-haired Girl?”
I told him she was a character named Peggy Jean. He looked back at the statue, and said, thoughtfully, that there were some characters who would appear for a few weeks and then never be seen again. And she was exactly what the Red-haired Girl looked like.
I’d never seen the Little Red-haired Girl. She’d appeared briefly only once, at the end of a Valentine Day TV special, Craig told me, and I hadn’t seen it. I had underpainted that part of the statue orangey-red, but I was just about to paint her hair in blonde. Craig stopped me just in time.
In an interview I had seen that he gave close to the end of his life, Charles Schulz said that he regretted that Charlie never got to kick the football, and he never got to talk to the Little Red-Haired Girl. All week I had the sense that he was watching all of us artists and smiling. And here the Little Red-haired Girl had shown up to meet Charlie Brown on the statue without my knowing it.... So love won out! It was a little art miracle. Art can do things like that sometimes.
A lot of what goes into artwork may seem pretty mundane, but it’s necessary if you want to make art. If I want to use painted wood in some of the installations, I need to paint that wood — and sanding and priming comes first. If I want painted hearts on paper, I need to prepare that paper.
So, over a number of days, I primed wood scraps from Wine Country Cases in St. Helena (my thanks to them!) and painted art papers that will become part of the installations. You have to begin somewhere — and the best way to get it done is by taking one step at a time.
I was able to set everything out on tables at the Calistoga Art Center over a several-day period during the holidays, when things were quiet. (My heartfelt thanks — pun intended — to them for letting me do this!) That way I could work on this in assembly-line fashion.
I set out the wood scraps, and worked my way down the tables, priming the tops of each one. By the time I got to the end of the tables, the ones at the other end were ready for their second coat. Then, after some time to cure, I could repeat the process on the other side.
Part of this process was also a process of elimination — I was trying out different materials to see how they'd work. As much as I liked the small wooden hearts, I'm rethinking how I will use them.
Finally, everything was dry enough to get packed up and moved, so I could clear off the tables in the art center for classes again. There's still plenty more to do, though!
Some of my first designs included small-to-medium size sculpted hearts, so I spent hours in December making fifty of them. The repetition becomes meditative, and the fact that I was creating hearts to spread love had a beautiful meaning for me.
They are not completed — they need to be covered with a special papier-mâché covering that would allow them to be outside, and then they need to be painted and coated with a protective coating.
Later I rethought my designs. Originally, these were intended to be part of my installations in downtown Calistoga, but now I’m rethinking them. Maybe they should be part of a larger sculpture? Or maybe for indoors? I’m not sure now, but I know something interesting will come of them.
Creating designs for each installation of the project began, for me, with each location — each location has different needs. One of those locations is the Napa Valley sign just south of Calistoga.
I stopped to take a closer look and photograph it one day in December, between rainstorms. I needed also to check out, measure, and count the fenceposts that surround it, since each fencepost will be topped by a heart — and there will be another heart on the fence in between each pair of posts. It was a beautiful day. And it’s a lot of fenceposts — at least 51, when you add the ones directly across the road!
I’m looking forward to working with Kari Martin, program director and art director for the Boys and Girls Club in St. Helena, and the children in her program, on Hearts Across the Valley in St. Helena. And I was honored when she asked me to help with the judging for the club arts awards this year (I did a couple of years ago, too). We looked at the artwork in each category, talked about the criteria, and I made decisions carefully and thoughtfully.
Then I returned the following Monday, to see the show, and to watch the children come see it, too.
The children’s drawings, paintings, and collages will go on to regional and national competition, so the judge’s choices can have wider ramifications than purely local recognition. I loved seeing the children’s curiosity as they looked at each piece of art, and their happiness and excitement about the awards.
A number of children made sure all their friends and family saw their award-winning pieces. Their pride and joy was priceless.
Kari has put together an amazing program here. Last year she was recognized with a first place award from the national Boys and Girls Club organization for the best art program in the nation! Her creativity, commitment, and caring for the children is evident in everything she does.
I'll be coming back soon and working with Kari and the children on Hearts Across the Valley. I'll be working with St. Helena Elementary School too, right next door. This is going to be a fun project!
While I was in the early stages of creating ideas for this project, and visiting in Santa Rosa for a family gathering, I stopped to visit Dr. Joe Cool, Heart Throb. Dr. Joe Cool, who belongs to Northern California Medical Associates, was one of the five statues I created for Peanuts on Parade: A Tribute to Charles M. Schulz, a several-year project, with different character statues each year. He’ll turn ten years old this year. It’s hard to believe — where does the time go?
As you may be able to tell, Dr. Joe is a heart doctor — so he has hearts all over, including on his collar, sunglasses, and surgical cap — his do-rag. How thematic are all those hearts, given what I’m working on now! He also holds an EKG tape — and the heartbeats on the tape were that of a young girl who was a patient.
It was good to see Dr. Joe again. And as I walked up, someone had stopped to take his picture. It’s nice to know he’s still making people happy!
Karen Lynn Ingalls is an artist and art teacher in Napa Valley, California. She wants to spread love, in the form of art installations of hearts, as far and wide as possible, beginning in Napa Valley. The art she does apart from this project can be seen locally at Jessel Gallery in Napa, and online at www.KarenLynnIngalls.com.
Hearts Across the Valley began in 2017 as a community-based public art project in Napa Valley, California, created by artist and art teacher Karen Lynn Ingalls. It is intended to spread love across the valley, and beyond, using the power of Art. Ultimately, hundreds of people will be involved in its creations, and the installations and other artwork created will be seen by valley residents, visitors, and recipients.