Dalia Shevin sits in her studio in the People s Building on Elliot Street in Brattleboro, holding a handful of letters for her new installation titled  One
Dalia Shevin sits in her studio in the People s Building on Elliot Street in Brattleboro, holding a handful of letters for her new installation titled One Thousand Love Letters. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Friday February 1, 2013

BRATTLEBORO - Where is the love?

For two weeks anyway, it can be found in the former Sanel Auto Parts building at 47 Flat St., where Dalia Shevin has set up the local headquarters for small but meaningful gestures of kindness, love, appreciation, reconciliation and anything else that comes from the heart.

Beginning today and continuing through Feb. 15, folks can stop by to take part in "One Thousand Love Letters," a participatory community art project which invites people to write love letters. Shevin will provide paper, writing materials, warm beverages, postage if you want to mail your letter, a way to display your letter if you're open to that, writing prompts to get you started and other support. The goal is you guessed it to generate 1,000 love letters by the time the project is finished.

But there are larger goals. In our Tweeting, LOL-ing, OMG-ing, text-happy world, careful and caring communication that springs from deep human places just doesn't happen enough, according to Shevin, a local printer, painter, letter collector and co-founder of The Tinderbox. She'd like to help bring the love letter back.

"I think it's really precious, and I think it's one of those things that's disappearing quietly. I think it's something that we can easily save," said Shevin. "As a culture, we're getting more disembodied. I'm interested in getting us using our whole hands to write our loved ones, not just our thumbs.


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The idea for "One Thousand Love Letters" came to Shevin in a flash as she and her partner were driving back to Brattleboro from spending Thanksgiving with family. Shevin's grandmother had recently died, and Shevin had spent some time going through her papers, noticing all the letters. A light bulb lit up in Shevin's mind.

"That storefront on Flat Street is empty, and I'm going to renovate it and people are going to write letters. I told my partner ‘I'm having a great idea,'" she recalled.

There's evidence that she's not the only who thinks so. Figuring she would need about $1,200 to fund her project, Shevin launched a campaign with Kickstarter, an online crowd-sourcing tool where people set funding targets and deadlines and then seek contributions to meet their goal. If you don't meet your goal in the time allotted, you don't get the funds. Shevin met her goal in a mere four hours. In all, her Kickstarter campaign raised more than $4,100 -- and gave her a sense that she was onto something.

"It's really touched a nerve. It's something that's really speaking to people," said Shevin. "I think people are deeply, deeply hungry for things that are small in scale and human and loving."

Although "One Thousand Love Letters" coincides with the valentine season and will no doubt generate a certain number of letters of the romantic or passionately loving kind, Shevin is encouraging people to use a broad definition of what a love letter can be.

"People can write open letters, they can write letters to someone who's passed away, to a sports team, to a friend. They can write letters of apology," she said. "I want to write to family members, to all the teachers I've had. I want to write an open letter to all the snow truck and plow guys because I appreciate what they do, and I want them to be safe. People think about Valentine's Day in a very, very romantic sense. What if we really, really expanded this?"

The "One Thousand Love Letters" site opens this evening during Gallery Walk from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Letter press artist H.B. Lozito will be on hand. After that, it will be open daily from noon to 7 p.m. People will find a comfortable "Letter Lab," with tables to work at and comfy chairs to sit in. They will find all the materials they need, although they're certainly welcome to bring their own. Shevin plans to have some workshops in letter press block printing and in writing healing letters to your own body. There will be other prompts and helpful hints on getting started.

"People just need to bring an open mind," she said.

On Feb. 9, there will be a letter writing marathon from noon to 1 a.m. "I think that some of the best letters are written in the small hours," she said.

There will be a closing event on Feb. 15 featuring letter reading and music. Details are still being finalized.

When all is said and done, Shevin hopes the people of Brattleboro have written 1,000 love letters -- or more. Beyond that well, who knows what a love letter can do?

"It's just a small good thing, but the effects can be enormous," Shevin said. "I guess I'm hoping people take away that ‘Wow, that felt really good. Wow, that was easy. Or wow, that was difficult, but I'm glad I did it."

Shevin is still looking for donations of manual typewriters. If you have one, contact her at 802-254-5692. For more about the project, check it out on Facebook.