After a tumultuous week of trying to digest our current political reality, I was relieved to stumble upon just the right antidote at just the right time — a series of future, in-the-works installations called “Hearts Across the Valley.”
The brainchild of Calistoga-based artist and art teacher Karen Lynn Ingalls, the project will reveal hundreds of original heart-shaped, painted art papers containing multi-lingual messages of love, kindness and compassion.
“I began thinking about the impact of visual images on people’s well-being,” Ingalls said. “If you see something that makes you feel sad or angry or hurt, how would it impact you? And I wondered how it would be if people saw something that made them smile, something that made them feel good.”
Ingalls’ professional paintings are on exhibit through February in a group show called “Bright, Bold and Beautiful” at Jessel Gallery where vividly colored, acrylic landscapes of trees, hills, rivers and skies illuminate the gallery’s walls. Originally a painter of people, Ingalls switched her focus to document areas threatened by development while continuing to capture California’s rural environments.
The heart project, however, was inspired not by landscapes but by Ingalls’ observations of friends, family, colleagues and residents who were left feeling mad and helpless post-election. She was attracted to the heart icon, a natural, universal symbol of love with a history that dates to cave drawings more than 10,000 years old.
“When the idea came,” Ingalls said, “I was obsessed. I’ve been compelled to do this because the whole idea is to make people smile, make people realize that somebody cares about them. It just needed to be born.”
A three-block section of Calistoga’s downtown Main Street will be the premier site of “Hearts Across the Valley,” in just a few weeks, Ingalls said. Hearts of water-colored painted paper, printed on mat photo paper and then laminated will be noticeable in a variety of settings.
“About 40 hearts of different designs — some with messages — will be visible from posts that support roof overhangs along the sidewalks,” said Ingalls. “Fifty laminated hearts will be strung together, suspended from trees and attached to tree trunks. Even Dr. Wilkinson’s [Hot Springs Resort] has asked for them!”
While Ingalls has been busily making hearts on her own, she also invited residents to participate at two “Make-a-Heart Days” held at the Calistoga Art Center. “They’ve been very supportive,” Ingalls said, “letting me have these gatherings during times when the art center is not being used so I am able to get things started.”
Like many of her canvases, Ingalls said “big picture” and is designing heart installations to take place in all four Napa Valley cities for locals and tourists to enjoy.
Plans are already in motion for a heart project with the themes of love and kindness in partnership with St. Helena Elementary School and the local Boys & Girls Club. Working her way up valley, Ingalls anticipates an installation in Yountville in sync with Arts in April.
“I hope to create a trail of hearts on the sidewalk along the Yountville Artwalk, stretching from one sculpture to the next throughout the town, with the intention of leading people on a little journey of discovery,” she said.
Inspired by environmental artist Christo’s “Running Fence,” Ingalls also envisions hearts suspended along Highway 29 and possibly Silverado Trail.
I could definitely see these inspiring objets de’hearts on mile markers along the Vine Trail and/or defining our waterways in some heart-full way.
“I decided, as an artist, that I wanted to put hearts all across Napa Valley, wherever people would see them, as a way of spreading love throughout our communities,” Ingalls said. “I’ve rounded up quotations about love, kindness and compassion and translated ‘We love you’ into every language that Google translates (103). It’s a big job, but you have to start somewhere. I’m starting right here.”