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For the past 24 years, Portland has woken up on Valentine’s Day to windows plastered with red hearts. Call it a gesture of city love on the part of long-term secret admirers. This past Monday, one of the two original bandits came clean to a gathering of artists and activists at the SPACE Gallery. Coincidentally, she’s also running for an at-large seat on the Portland City Council: Carol Schiller, a Portland artist and former president of the Greater Portland Neighborhoods Coalition who has made the arts — particularly public art — a focus of her campaign platform.
The inspiration for the prank, she says, came to her back in ’81 or ’82, when she was a recent art-school grad living on Munjoy Hill. A friend, who worked at a paper mill, was in the habit of leaving surplus goods at her door. One night he brought her a massive ream of thick, red paper.
For days she wondered what to do with it. One morning, she says, "I just woke up with a really clear vision of what to do." She and a close friend, Kimberly Smith, spent days cutting out hundreds of hearts. The night before Valentine’s Day, the two women took off in Schiller’s ’67 Volkswagen with tape and staple guns, on a "midnight raid kind of thing," putting up hearts wherever they could find space.
By the next year, she says, someone else in town had already caught on, initiating their own campaign with more sophisticated hearts, silk-screened onto white paper. Schiller will not say if she knows who they are. "Those people will have to come out when they’re ready," she laughs. At any rate, she’s left the tradition in their hands.
Smith, who now lives in New Jersey, confirms the story, saying she remembers this was one of Schiller’s first public-art undertakings. Schiller says that the project was "an expression of gratitude" for the city of Portland, which she’d been quite taken with since moving here a year or so before. "It’s like when you bake a cake for someone," she says, "and you watch them enjoy it. When you make public art, the reward is that people feed off of it, and it takes you out of your busy world."
Issue Date: October 21 - 27, 2005
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