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Having a heart where there once was none

Romance is in the air. February is for lovers, and sweethearts everywhere are getting ready for the big day.

I must confess I was never much of a fan of Valentine’s Day. Sure, when I was a little kid, it was fun giving and getting those sweet cards from everyone in class and eating the little chalky hearts with sentiments like “Be true” and “Hug me” stamped into them.

But as an adult, I tended to find more bad than good in the holiday. I was single until my mid-forties, so for many of my Valentine’s Days I was alone and feeling bad about it even though I knew I shouldn’t. It was hard not to when the world was telling me I should be coupled up and eating chocolates.

And there were many Valentine’s Days when I was dating someone and the day put pressure on us to define our relationship. Should I get him a card? What about a gift? If I don’t get flowers, should I feel slighted? Is this guy my Valentine or what?

And don’t get me started on how every restaurant in L.A. would gouge its patrons for the evening with an inflated price tag on their special menu. I sound like a Valentine’s Scrooge, and I suppose I deserve the title.

Of course, now I’m a happily married woman with a wonderful husband who knows me well enough to not make a big deal out of the occasion. That’s not to say he’s not romantic, or even that I’m not. I’m just not fond of a day that puts everyone’s love life under a microscope and demands we all buy red mylar balloons. Hey, they’re bad for the environment!

But since moving to Tryon, I have a new Valentine’s tradition, and this one I love. I make a ceramic heart for the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Have a HeArt fundraiser at Upstairs Artspace.

The first year I did this, I was working on a project in pottery class at Tryon Arts and Crafts when my instructor Jim Cullen handed out the blank pre-fired hearts to everyone. He explained that we could design the hearts in any way we liked and donate them to be displayed at Upstairs and then bid on to raise money for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Polk County and Landrum, a wonderful nonprofit that provides mentors to children who need or want them.

I was a new potter and hadn’t sold anything I’d made yet. I discreetly told him I couldn’t do one–that mine wouldn’t be good enough. He ignored my statement and said, “You’re making one.”

Of course he was right to push me out of the pottery nest, and boy did I fly! I made a heart that I loved, and watching the dollar amounts climb on the bid sheet at the gallery made me feel incredible. Not only was I proud that people wanted to buy my heart, but I was able to generate a sizable donation to an important cause with my contribution. Finally, I had found meaning in Valentine’s Day!

This is the third year I’ve made a heart for Have a HeArt. When Jim Cullen fired my heart for me at his studio this year, I told him I felt intimidated by all the really great artists who were sure to donate amazing hearts as they had for the past two years (and he was one!).

“Don’t worry about that,” he said. “They’ll be grateful for every heart.”

I love that sentiment. All hearts have value. Even the ones who are single into their mid-forties. Oh wait, I’m getting off track.

I can promise that my heart isn’t the best one hanging on the wall at Upstairs, but I still want you to come and see it. Because I know when you do, you’ll be drawn to the many other hearts beautifully displayed in the gallery and you’ll see the power of a community of artists working to help a worthy cause. It’s bound to make you feel good.

The reception at Upstairs for the closing bids is on Saturday, Feb. 14 (naturally!) from 4-6 p.m. Don’t feel pressured to bid if you can’t, but just come and stay to watch happy people leaving the gallery with shopping bags full of beautiful hearts. The people standing back with huge grins on their faces will be the artists watching their work make a difference for Big Brothers Big Sisters.

If I’m lucky, I’ll be one of them. Happy Valentine’s Day.