Local personality spreads 'heart' around Brattleboro

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BRATTLEBORO —William Forchion, a circus performer, writer and emcee, loves to be in front of an audience.

"Working with an audience is great because there is always something unexpected, and there is a reward to whatever happens because when you connect with an audience, that is the reward," he said.

So when the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to socially isolate, he came up with another way to connect with his community.

For a month and a half, Forchion, 53, has been painting acrylic hearts on pieces of slate and placing them outside his home on Fairview Street for passersby to take.

"I knew that we needed to have some sign of hope," he said. "And since we also started social distancing, I wanted a way, since I couldn't actually physically go up to people, I wanted to be able to project to them this essence of hope."

He said he had also considered putting his Christmas lights up, but he wanted a display that would be visible in daylight.

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He began painting the hearts on damaged slate tiles from a remodeling project. After he ran out of those, he obtained more slate from a friend's surplus. He said many houses in his neighborhood have slate roofs, and he thought this to be a wonderful way to repurpose the material.

"I would have never labeled myself as a painter, but art needs to be created," he said. "Especially in this time, I think many artists, when the venues are shut down, and we still need to create, it's created by any means necessary, and the paints were accessible, the slate was accessible and that was one of my artistic outlets."

After he shared photographs and information about his hearts in "Brattleboro, Vermont," a public group on Facebook, Tuesday evening, he said the response was overwhelming. That night, he painted six hearts, and then did six more Wednesday morning. By the afternoon, he said all 12 were gone.

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Among those who picked up a heart is Martha Healey Nelson, who lives in town and said she took one on her early morning walk, during which she noticed Forchion's hearts decorating other people's yards. Her own slate heart is now on display in front of her garden.

"This whole pandemic thing has really brought a lot of the community members out to reach out to each other," she said. "I loved Bill's idea of using hearts to reach out."

Nelson is an early childhood special educator, and has been working with her students' families at a distance since schools closed. Her students range from 3 to 5 years old, and all have demonstrated a developmental delay. She said she has been encouraging families to incorporate the colors, numbers and language of their "natural routines" into their children's education. These routines may include explorations of the landscape, such as through fishing, kayaking and gardening — she provided some families with materials to plant butter beans.

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She commended Forchion's chosen medium of slate — "a natural form that happens in Vermont."

"The passion and kindness has really been just supportive of everything, of all of us," she said.

Forchion said he will not be making the hearts after this weekend, after which he will be focusing his energies on directing the Circus Smirkus summer camp in Greensboro.

Until the hearts run out, they can be picked up on the sidewalk in front of 207 Fairview St., near the intersection with Maple Street.

"It's really important that, especially when we can't see the finish line, that we keep hoping, and we keep conjuring a healthy, wonderful resolution," Forchion said.

See more photos in the online gallery: https://mng-nenivt.smugmug.com/Making-Hearts-052820/


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