Crafters create tiny hearts to spread big message of kindness
While planning this year’s Pittsburgh Creative Arts Festival, founder Barbara Grossman and her family felt a calling to respond to the Oct. 27 mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, in which 11 people were killed.
The event planner says what started 15 years ago as a school fundraiser has grown into a festival that now attracts 4,000 or more attendees. This year, Grossman and her sister, Ann Szilagyi, are overseeing the Pgh HandMade Hearts initiative.
The effort encourages artists, students, Scout troops and individuals to make and place handmade hearts in public places as reminders of the power of kindness, she says.
“I guess it was prompted by the violent act that was committed at Tree of Life Synagogue,” Grossman says.
“That crushed me, it really did, as it did many people. … This was system overload. I just crashed,” she says.
Wanting to do something to make a community impact, she remembered the campaign for Random Acts of Kindness.
“The festival was always a platform for creativity. … I thought, ‘I have a platform to reach lots of people,’” Grossman says.
Held at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Green Tree, the festival features knitting, crochet, quilting, sewing and other creative art classes, workshops, vendors and special displays and events.
More than 1,000 hearts, made since October, already have been distributed throughout the region.
Grossman says her husband, former Pittsburgh Steeler Randy Grossman, who is Jewish, reminds her that “not everyone is evil.”
She began reaching out to craft quilts, show vendors, shop owners and others, hoping to make an impact, especially with young people.
“I found that through this process, it’s been a little healing for me. The reception I’ve received has been overwhelming. I’ve had material donated. People are embracing this. It’s not just about Jewish people being affected. It’s about everyone being affected,” Grossman says.
On a recent weekday afternoon, a dozen women craft the tiny hearts at RaggZ Fiber Art in Forbes Road, Salem Township.
Business owner Toni Ritchey, a friend of Grossman’s, hosted the gathering where hearts of all kinds — leather, plastic canvas, embedded with tiny charms or feathers — take shape.
Students at Greensburg’s Aquinas Academy contributed beaded hearts they made to the project, Ritchey says.
Numerous regional businesses are accepting donated hearts, which will be collected and also can be made during the March 15-17 festival.
The hearts can be hand stitched, machine stitched, embroidered, knitted, crocheted, made from wood, clay, etc., approximately 21⁄2 – 3 inches in size, Grossman says.
Materials will be supplied, along with tags with positive messages and a wide range of techniques will be shown and taught as part of the festival activity.
Those attending will be asked to take a few hearts with them and place them in libraries, lobbies, churches, mosques, synagogues, community centers, senior centers, auditoriums, at bus stops and supermarkets, parks, playgrounds or hiking trails, Grossman suggests.
Those who find a little heart in a public space are asked to take a photo and post on social media with the hashtags: #ShareAHeartPgh, #PghHandMadeHearts, #LOVE>hate, #Lovegreaterthanhate or #Strongerthanhate.
Reaching out to others
Grossman says she is hearing from out-of-state organizations collecting hearts on Pittsburgh’s behalf.
“Maybe we will reach beyond our borders,” she says.
Ultimately, Grossman hopes to work with a cultural or artistic organization to mount an installation, possibly one that can travel, to show the city’s response to the project.
And she wants the movement to continue long after the festival concludes. “This is not supposed to stop,” Grossman says.
Below are area businesses participating in the initiative and where handmade hearts made in advance of the festival may be taken.
• Amy Baughman Sew & Quilt, Cranberry
• Ashgrove Soaps and Sundries, Valencia
• Cut & Sew Studio, Morningside
• Firecracker Fabrics, Morningside
• Kid Ewe Knot, Bridgeville
• Loom Exquisite Textiles, Pittsburgh’s Strip District
• McWalker Yarns, Millvale
• The Pittsburgh Yarn Co.
• Quilters Corner, Finleyville
• Raggz Fiber Art, Forbes Road
• Songbird Artistry, Pittsburgh
• Yarns by Design, Oakmont
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-836-5401, [email protected] or via Twitter .