Len Emery photo
Project coordinator Dahlia Shevin stands before a wall of love letters displayed in the Letter Lab, a temporary studio and gallery in the storefront of the former Sanel Auto Parts Store at 47 Flat St. in downtown Brattleboro.
BRATTLEBORO — Dahlia Shevin had a dream, and more than 1,365 people made it come true.
Shevin had a dream about people writing love letters, so she opened up a love letter-writing storefront two weeks ago. Hundreds of Brattleboro area residents have taken her up on her offer.
Call it the anti-email. Call it the anti-Facebook. Call it the anti-Hallmark.
“Love letters are an endangered species,” said Shevin, a Putney baker who came up with the idea of the participatory community art installation.
Her original goal was asking the community to come in, pick up some paper and pen, sit down and write 1,000 personal and unique love letters. And with the rest of Wednesday and Thursday still to go, Shevin was far exceeding her goal; close to 1,400 letters and postcards had been written.
The letters, some touching, some heart-breaking, some humorous, some ironic, some downright silly, one slightly obscene, were clipped to rows of clothesline on a back wall in the storefront, bright flags of turquoise, white, pink and red paper, some decorated with photos, a few traditional hearts tucked in here and there.
If people wanted to share their letter-writing ability and sentiment, they could be posted for all to read. Or not.
Others pinned up sealed letters, which would be mailed en masse Thursday, or others would come in and mail them themselves since there is a mailbox conveniently just outside the door.
“This object traveled from my hands to yours, across time and space, with the help of many people unknown to either of us. It’s kind of a miracle,” read one of the stamps Shevin had made that people could add to their love letters.
Romantic love, Shevin said, was definitely taking a back seat in the love-letter campaign.
People wrote odes to Brattleboro, to their dogs, living and dead, to their parents, living and dead, to their fathers serving in Afghanistan, to a pet pig, to their skateboard gang, to the joys of childhood, to the flock of mallard ducks on the Whetstone Brook, to Vermont.
“Dinosaurs I love you, Gavin,” said one of the more succinct letters.
Shevin, 33, is a baker, chef and caterer, but winter is a slow time for her business.
But as one of her friends put it in an introduction Wednesday afternoon, “This is Dahlia and she had a dream.”
Her dream was to reconnect people with the lost art of letter-writing, and she felt Valentine’s Day was a great time for a collective letter-writing campaign, divorced from the commercialism of the usual Valentine’s Day celebration.
“I just didn’t want to do the whole pink-and-white thing. It’s not just romantic love,” she said.
Shevin raised more than $4,000 on Kickstarter.com for her public art project. She used the money to rent the former Sanel Auto Parts Store on Flat Street, and bought paper, pens, envelopes, stamps, rubber stamps, stickers and decorative materials — as well as coffee and tea to encourage the flow of ideas.
Brattleboro businesses loaned rugs and couches, tables and chairs, and a handful of manual typewriters.
People have dropped off boxes of paper, collage materials, or made donations.
Shevin’s idea has caught fire. Wednesday afternoon a steady stream of people of all ages sat down at one of the tables or benches and put pen, pencil or marker to paper. It was very quiet as people thought about what and who they loved.
There were even some of those dinosaurs — manual typewriters. There was nary a laptop in sight.
Dana Ruppert of Brattleboro wrote a love letter to her father, who is dying from cancer.
Writing letters is a lost art, said Ruppert, who works at the local U.S. Department of Agriculture office. “I love getting letters, I love getting postcards, with their concise sentiment,” she said.
Shevin said one sixth-grade class came in Tuesday to write letters, and the big attraction for the students were the manual typewriters. They had never seen typewriters, let alone a manual typewriter.
The kids wanted to know how to erase mistakes, she said. “I told them, you don’t,” she said, laughing.
Shevin said she and the other artists involved in the project would make some kind of archive of all of the letters. She said she had received lots of help from both Brooks Memorial Library and the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center for her project.
The love letter project will wrap up this evening, and re-open Friday for a public reading of the letters, along with music. .
A group of women came in immediately after a memorial service for a friend, she said, and wrote letters about her.
One 11-year-old girl, calling herself Porkchop, wrote a love letter to her military daddy, who will be home in Vermont in a year and seven months.
“I’d love to do this for the rest of my life,” said Shevin. “We’ll stay open as long as everyone wants.”
The project isn’t completely against electronic communication. It does have a Facebook page: One Thousand Love Letters. And counting.
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