#HeartsinSF: On Wings of Love

When I was offered the chance to “make a heart” for an annual fundraiser for the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation, I hesitated for a moment. I’d never made a three-dimensional mosaic, per se. It had to have technical issues — that point at the bottom, for example, where everything converges? That cleft between the two upper chambers?

But a challenge is a challenge. And besides, I have a special feeling about San Francisco General. In the mid-1980s, as a rookie reporter for the old San Francisco Examiner, I spent an afternoon in what was then called “the AIDS Ward.” It was the height of the AIDS epidemic, people were dying in droves in cities like San Francisco, and those who weren’t yet ill were in a panic. But every Saturday, a skinny blonde woman from the Midwest called “Rita Rockett,” who had come to California looking for the Hollywood dream and found only waitressing jobs, volunteered in the AIDS Ward to “give back” to the gay men who had made her dislocation tolerable. She  cooked massive amounts of food and the hospital allowed her to wheel it up to the ward, where so many were wasting away. The patients invited their friends, family, lovers and ex-lovers.  Everyone ate a non-institutional meal, and for at least that one day out of every seven, it was almost a party. Many of the patients had nowhere else to go in their condition; it would be their last ‘home.’  So the sense of community established by this crisis ritual was essential in staving off the terror: the terror of those who would tumble importunately into eternity, and of those who would lose them.

I remember learning that a handsome, green-eyed visitor who conversed with me in a deep baritone voice was the star of many a gay porn video; he said he felt a deep responsibility to “be there” for the fellas. And I remember that the squeamishness I had to repress when pushing the ‘up’ button of the elevator, was very much gone by the time I pressed the button to go down.

So yes, I said yes, and started the project. Thirty days we were given, to turn it in.

Soon a little box arrived from the HeartsinSF campaign offices, incredibly heavy for its dimensions. Inside, I found a pure white cast heart on a stand.  The mosaic equivalent of the white page. I loved contemplating its possibilities.

White HeartHeart- beginning

It didn’t take long to decide I was going to make a cockatoo. People asked me: how did I come to that? I have to confess: it was the color of a piece of stained glass I found, ranging in shades from deep orange to white through the spectrum of peaches and corals — it just said “cockatoo” to me. Which brought to mind a white cockatoo named “Marilyn,” who I used to visit in a Modesto flower shop.

From there I began to cut and sort the tesserae, and pencilled the bird on the virgin heart. With the very first pieces I laid down- the cockatoo’s face — I knew it was going to work. The project was a pleasure from start to finish, although fitting the pale blue tile into the upper crevice of the heart was indeed very difficult.Heart-Cutting Tess

Cockatoo face beginning

Heart rear before grout











Heart bef Grout

The pale gray grout tended to tone down the bright oranges and blues (see before – above- and after- below.) But it was the best possible choice, I think.

On Wings of Love front viewOn Wings of Love rear view

Eleven hearts designed by San Francisco artists will be displayed in the windows of the Neiman Marcus department store in Union Square and four in Wilkes Bashford, until February 16, when they will hopefully be sold at auction to benefit the new Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center.

It is indeed a very good thing that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife gave $75 million to this cause. But I gave my heart.

My Heart in NM window

Four of the hearts (‘On Wings of Love” is at left) in the window of Neiman Marcus in Union Square, San Francisco. 

5 Responses to “#HeartsinSF: On Wings of Love”

  1. Glynnis Kaye Says:

    Great story, Laura! Loved reading about your heart-making process and what inspired you. Your description of SF General in the 1980s brings back memories of how scary and profoundly heartbreaking the AIDS crisis was at that time.

  2. Laura Paull Says:

    Thank you so much, Glynnis. Yes, the AIDS crisis is impossible to forget. And it is wonderful to be able to honor the medical community, and those they serve, through art.

  3. Wonderful story! Beautiful heart! Thank you for sharing this with us!

  4. Robin Brown Says:

    What a wonderful story and you absolutely gave your heart. It certainly does make one itch to attempt mosaicing (I know, not a word) which has been on my mind for years. Keep going, you may push me yet!

  5. Laura Paull Says:

    Thanks for reading, Robin, and for your comment. I know YOU have plenty of stories resulting from your work…And if your “itch” becomes unbearable, you know where to find me!

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