An Affair of the Heart

An Affair of the Heart

It started in Zurich, in the 80’s, with cows. A herd of life-size fiberglass cows, decorated by artists, were put on public display. Within a few years, similar public art initiatives were undertaken in several American cities, the basic, blank cow being covered in decorative overlays with color, texture, style, and in many cases wit. (for example, Wall Street, heart of the nation’s financial industry, had a dollar bill-covered Cash Cow.)

Then there were angels in Los Angeles.

And then, starting in 2004, Hearts in San Francisco. Drawing inspiration from the Tony Bennett hit song, I Left My Heart in San Francisco,  FRP hearts of SF were given to artists to imprint with their creativity, and then auctioned off by the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation (SFGHF). That initial flock of 131, 5-foot-tall hearts, “designed by local and national established and emerging artists” (according to the foundation) were put on public display all over San Francisco, in parks and on street corners. Then, they were auctioned off to benefit the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation “and its efforts to fund projects and initiatives that provide quality compassionate care at San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center.”

Since then, SFGHF has continued to give artists hearts to play with, about 10-15 a year. There are now three sizes, the Large 5-foot tall original, a 16” tall Table Top model, and a 7” tall Mini Heart.  The composite hearts are made by Kreysler and Associates, a northern California architectural composites fabricator (and sponsor of this blog).  Annually, artists are invited to propose designs for any of the three sizes. The heart aplications for 2016 are now closed, and hearts are being assigned to artists, but applications for 2017’s flock are being accepted. (Visit for details)

What a fertile symbol to turn over to a visual artist!  Fiberglass provides a durable substrate – let us not forget the advice of the Wizard of Oz, that “hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable” – and the artists have enhanced them with paint, collage, tile mosaic and more. They present visions, passions, whimsy, wit, angst, and joy, revolving around the myriad emotions, associations, and deplorable puns that the concept of a heart naturally inspires. Many are just expressions of pure visual delight in being able to create a unique and glorious surface.

From 2004 through 2015, more than 300 artists left their hearts in San Francisco, with the auctions (and the events at which they are auctioned) raising more than $13 million for the foundation. One of the highest prices fetched by a single heart was $100,000 for Brit Howard’s Heart of a Giant (see below).  They have become the center of two annual fundraising events, the Heroes & Hearts luncheon and Hearts After Dark.  Select large hearts get a brief public display in Union Square before the auction, and some hearts have been publicly displayed by their purchasers, but many of the artworks have disappeared into private collections. However, they can be seen at the SFGHF website.

Here is a selection – almost random – from a few of the years. Many more hearts can be found at

Images courtesy of the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation