Do you know about the heart of the Folk School? The people, the creativity, the tradition, the camaraderie, the music, the home cooking, the smell of Keith House when you first walk in? Arguably, these are all elements that make up the intangible heart of the Folk School, but I am talking here about the tangible Big Red Heart. This is the heart that documents Folk School couples with the Sharpie of Destiny, turning their love into legend. I sat down with Folk School director Jan Davidson this Valentine’s Week to find out a little bit more about the myth and magic of the Big Red Heart.
CP: What is the Big Red Heart? Who made it?
JD: Dana Hatheway (who was at that time the Resident Artist in Woodworking) made the Big Red Heart. I believe he was having an anniversary with his wife Marcia Bugg (who was the Resident Artist in Clay). They had already been married many years and it just occurred to Dana that it would be cool thing to make a Big Red Heart. So he cranked it out on the band saw, painted it red, and stuck a dowel through the middle of it like an arrow. The dowel was even originally fledged with a little bit of pink boa feather. It sticks all the way through the heart and you can spin the heart in your hand.
Dana wrote on the heart:
“Take a spin on cupid’s arrow
And see who will be next…”
As if you were in a parlor game in a circle and you were going to spin the heart (like spin the bottle), it has never actually worked that way. I’ve never known this Big Red Heart to be the predictor or indicator of romance so much as the testament to love… some people say “carved in stone,” well around here we use the Sharpie of Destiny!
CP: How do you get your name on the heart?
JD: You have to meet or marry your person at the Folk School.
CP: What is the “Sharpie of Destiny”?
JD: I started that a few years back when a new couple, “Nick + Vick” were signing up. We decided have to have a little ceremony–ritual is an important part of how people commemorate milestones in life, so I decided it was the Sharpie of Destiny (which is whichever one we can find – usually black, and it acquires the “destiny” part as soon as we find it and get it close to the red heart.) Then we have the lucky couple to sign in on the BRH. They get to keep the SofD.
CP: How long has the Big Red Heart been in existence?
JD: This heart has been around for about 20 years but we also took the liberty of honoring some notable couples in Folk School history like Ellie and Monroe Wilson, Marguerite Butler and Georg Bidstrup, Murray and Dub Martin, Wayne and Gladys Holland, and myself and Nanette (married 32 years! ;-))…we tried to make some of this retroactive to reflect Folk School couples of the past.
CP: Why do you think the Folk School is a place where so many folks have met their true love?
JD: Two things…
One: You don’t have to play a part; you can play your own part.
Two: The nature of what we do makes people be honest with each other pretty quick and that’s a big part of it. The relationships are genuine. They’re not there for any other purpose than making friends and sometimes that gets out of hand! Next thing you know…
CP: I see a lot of Morris and contra dancers on this heart, and you know what they say about dancing. Do you have a comment on the correlation between music and dancing and the percentage of people on the Big Red Heart?
JD: There are certainly a lot of them who are dancers or who met at a dance anyway… I’m not sure if this is going to be a big scoop, but dancing definitely brings folks together.
CP: Has the heart ever been stolen (I like to think of Fluffy guarding the Big Red Heart like the Philosopher’s Stone’s at Hogwarts)?
JD: The heart is always kept under tight security, but I’m not at liberty to discuss it.
CP: Is there space for everybody on the heart who meets and falls in love at the Folk School?
JD: There IS space for everyone on the heart and amazingly I really do believe that there is someone for everyone… and everyone loves somebody sometime… and love is all you need…
CP: That’s a “lovely” conclusion! Any other closing words?
JD: Love will keep us together… Love is a many splendored thing…
CP: Thanks, Jan.
JD: Love, love, love, love, crazy love……
On behalf of everyone at the Folk School, I’d like to wish you a very Happy Valentine’s Day! A big thanks to Jan, Nanette, Keather, Robert, Harry, Julie, Ted and Hannah for taking the time to honor the Big Heart Heart this week. May I also add that all the aforementioned folks are either Morris dancers or musicians, thus proving my dance + love theory. Another amazing fun fact is that each of the three curly-haired brides (that’d be Hannah, Keather & Julie) all are twins! Coincidence?
I guess we must wait to see who lands on the Big Red Heart next… Could it be you?
Cory Marie Podielski is a freelance graphic designer, photographer, and writer for the John C. Campbell Folk School. She has been writing for the Folk School Blog since 2012 and enjoys interviewing artists, musicians, and craftspeople. In her spare time, she enjoys playing the banjo, dancing, printmaking, playing in clay, and assisting in Folk School bread baking classes. podielski.com