When my in-laws from North Carolina visited Saranac Lake this past Thanksgiving they asked me “what’s with all of the hearts around town?” They had noticed that my husband and I had hung one of the heart banners on the fence outside of our home since their last visit. I had acquired the heart banner while dropping off some of the “All Are Welcome” stickers to local artist, Gail Brill. Gail loved the message “All Are Welcome,” and shared a similar sentiment with her Heart Banner Project. “The world needs more love” is a message that can be seen and felt throughout Saranac Lake!
Where it all started
Gail has been a graphic designer for 40 years and a professional calligrapher for 25 years. “Creating a thing of beauty that others delight in brings me great joy” she says. So when Gail was on a trip to Maine and noticed heart banners around town, she was inspired! She immediately knew she wanted to bring the heart banners to Saranac Lake. “I thought, ‘What kind of fabric are we going to use? How are we going to produce this? Who’s going to be on my team?’ and at that point, I went into a thrift store in Maine and happened to find yards and yards of this blackout material, which has a little bit of rubber in it, and I thought ‘this would be perfect to work with because it would stand up to outdoor wear.’” When she returned home she began work immediately making a prototype, and at that point she contacted a bunch of people saying “I have this crazy idea, do you want to help?” At first it was just her, but she quickly grew to have a large committee of volunteers helping her with the banners. Each heart banner is handmade - they are not mass produced, which is part of the charm in a project like this. Each banner has been created with intention and love from Gail or one of the many volunteers that help out with this project. Gail says that the Facebook page she created has been a huge aid in recruiting helpers and spreading the message.
Banners around town
Banners can be seen all around town and the surrounding area. You can drive downtown and see hearts in the windows of shops, pass homes that have hearts on their fences or doors, but by far my favorite place to see the hearts is in the windows of the patient rooms at the hospital. I have been fortunate to spend time at Adirondack Medical Center (AMC) for the best possible reason - the birth of my son. When I delivered my son at AMC, the heart banner hanging in the window reaffirmed the love this community has, and reminded me how truly lucky I am to be bringing my child up in this wonderful place. For others, I can imagine the heart is a welcome feeling of love on harder or much scarier occasions. Regardless of the type of day you are having, or where you happen to see one of the heart banners, the message is abundantly clear: Saranac Lake is a loving and welcoming place.
Love is starting to spread
As you drive through the outskirts of Saranac Lake to Lake Clear, Paul Smith’s, Bloomingdale, or Raybrook, you are likely to pass the occasional heart as you go. Neighboring communities of Lake Placid and Tupper Lake have even started to fly heart banners from the project. Gail confesses, “I’ve even had this crazy thought of taking this project national” because she has had people come to the Third Thursday ArtWalks, where out-of-town people were “just blown away”, and wanted to bring the banners back to their communities. Gail also told me of a friend who took off in their RV traveling across the country with a bag of heart banners that were handed out to people they thought would appreciate them. Gail has even been approached by someone who asked if she could make 60 banners for their community, to which she replied “no, but you can!” She has put together a how-to kit to show others how to get a Heart Banner Project going in their own communities. Gail considered selling the kits as a way to cover costs for the grommets and material used for the banners, but at this time has taken a pause on this endeavor to focus on the local project.
More than a message
With the popularity of the heart banners growing, people were reaching out to Gail wanting to purchase them, but from the start Gail has wanted to give the banners away for free. She decided to accept donations for the banners, which allowed her to give back to our community. “The donations have gone to local community organizations and not-for-profit organizations that do good for local people” Gail explains. “We also wanted the groups to be people-centric; we’re really about caring for our neighbors.” The Heart Banner Project has donated over $5,000 to local charities and businesses like the Saranac Lake Interfaith Food Pantry, and the children's museum that is in the works, PlayADK.
How can you be a part of the Heart Banner Project?
Originally, Gail was doing a mask project during the COVID-19 pandemic, when PPE was scarcely available. Due to social distancing, she would leave kits for the sewers to pick up in a plastic bin outside of her studio. This system worked, so Gail has continued to use this method for the heart banners. She has drawn up a cute map to help direct people to the bins, where she leaves the heart banners in exchange for donations. “It’s been a good way to give people that experience without having to come knock on my door. It works pretty good, that little plastic bin!” Gail laughed, as we reminisced on the charming experience of picking up a heart banner.
As previously mentioned, there is a Heart Banner Project Facebook page, where you can follow along or message about the project. Gail and her team welcome donations to the project, to help give back to the people in our community. She has also started the Saranac Lake Neighbor Helping Neighbor Facebook page in hope to inspire a kinder, more civil community.
In closing, Gail said that we need to “Keep focusing on the kindness, keep focusing on the love. We need to be kind to each other, and we need to respect each other, and I think this is just a universal message at this point.” I couldn't agree more.