Ya gotta have heart

These days, Rabbi Stephen Pearce’s heart isn’t on his sleeve; it’s in the courtyard.

The senior rabbi at San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El is dusting off his artistic chops in the name of a good cause. He’s painting one of the 130 giant hearts to adorn the city. Come November, the artwork will be auctioned off to raise funds for San Francisco General Hospital Foundation.

Pearce’s heavy heart — 700 pounds no less — will remain in Emanu-El’s courtyard, right where he is currently putting on its finishing touches.

The giant 5-foot-tall hearts —which started popping up on San Francisco street corners and in public squares in May — are the fruits of a project three years in the making. Organizers Ellen Magnin Newman and Nancy Bechtle hope to raise $1.5 million for the hospital foundation.

A map of the hearts’ locations can be found at www.heartsinsf.com/map.html.

For Pearce, it’s not the first experience with gargantuan art. When he lived in Connecticut, he created an 8-by-4-foot collage on one wall of his house. The fixture was large enough that he was forced to leave it on the wall when he sold the house.

He also took two years of pottery classes at the Brookfield Art Center in Connecticut, though he never created any room-sized pots.

Pearce’s involvement in the heart project began on a recent trip to Chicago. The Windy City was hosting a similar charitable art project involving decorated park benches, one of which was painted by Pearce’s friend.

The rabbi liked the idea of creating a work of art and auctioning it off for charity, and figured Emanu-El might start such an undertaking. Then he found out about Hearts in San Francisco. And he further discovered that the co-chair Newman is an Emanu-El congregant.

Pearce brought Newman a recent collage he’d created and she and other project officials liked what they saw.

“The next thing I know, a truck is arriving at Emanu-El and there’s this 700-pound thing on a dolly and they put it in the courtyard,” said Pearce with a laugh.

The hearts come in two varieties — the 700-pound steel heart Pearce describes as a “looking a bit like a butterfly” and a 400-pound Fiberglas model he sums up as “very bulbous looking, like a pregnant heart.” Until it came off the truck, Pearce had no idea which one he’d be working on.

“All I knew is, it would be very large,” he said.

Pearce, who spent long hours painting the bright rainbow-like patterned heart while onlookers passed through the courtyard, said he’s enjoyed the hard work. But he doesn’t think he’ll be getting too heavily involved in his nascent art career.

“Well, I would love to, but I do have a day job,” he noted.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.