The Queen of (Hidden) Hearts

A student campaigns to add joy to people’s lives

By Ariel Kraakman

Piper Martz puts her heart into everything she does. A social Bryn Mawr College freshman with long brown hair, clear blue eyes and a ready smile, she is a college’s dream of “well-rounded”. In her profile on she describes herself as “a right-brain, left-brain type of person…creativity surges out of me and flows into everything I do.” She’s a researcher, a soccer player, a photographer, and ran for class president. Learn more about her, however, and you’ll realize that her heart is literally everywhere–or should we say, her hearts.

Perhaps you are in a dark corner of a library basement looking through old books. You open a dust-covered volume at random, and out falls a red cardboard heart. Something special is written on it. Piper has been here, and she has been hoping for this moment.

Piper Martz is one of perhaps hundreds of people around the globe who leave messages on cardboard hearts as part of the Little Red Heart Project, an American-based initiative started by two girls. Or so Piper thinks. “There’s no time frame on when it started, or how long it’s been going,” she said one Friday night. “And I don’t even think…the creators take credit. I think it might be more anonymous…which is clever.”  She was sitting on a cozy couche in a well-lit common room. The easy flow of  conversation seemed to take its own form in the cascade of waist length hair spilling over her fine green scarf and down her long tie-dyed dress.

A Hopeful Message

“You create a little red heart that’s painted red or sharpied red,” she explained, “and you-you leave a piece of your heart behind, in random places. And you write a secret, or someone else’s secret, or a thought, or quote…there’s something very exhilarating about leaving part of you behind.” Piper decorates her hearts with uplifting quotes, hoping that people will find them and make hearts themselves.

The project had become a small international sensation by the time Piper heard about it. She recalls enthusiastically how, after reading about it online, she immediately “wanted to get my hands dirty and start crafting.” These days Piper often takes a stash of hearts with her wherever she goes. She leaves them around campus, in shoes at the mall, on train seats, and in between candy bars at the store, to name a few locales. “Art can carry such a powerful message and…for me…happiness is so contagious,” she said. “And I like to-I don’t know-to inflict that on people as often as possible.”

Piper associated happiness with art her whole life. She was raised one of three daughters in an “arty” family in Los Angeles and Larchmont, a suburb of New York. Her sisters, Sienna and Teal, are both named after colors.

“We have all these Dia de los Muertos skeletons all over our house, and my dad’s artwork is hanging everywhere…every room of our house is a different bright color…we’re almost, like, border-line art hoarders,” she said. Piper and her father Jasun, who changed the spelling of his name in the 60’s, can be found painting old furniture for fun. Once, her family found a discarded box of nude and abstract paintings. Today many of those works hang in the living room; an “anonymous art exhibition.”

Some of it, Piper explained, “was really beautiful, and some of it was really awful.” Which were which? “We don’t like the clean ones…we like…the ones with paint smeared everywhere…this raw, natural expression.”

Jasun, an artist and composer, painted over those pieces unworthy for the living room, namely the too-perfect still-lives of fruit. He creates portraits of people on the subway that his daughter fondly calls “very abstract, very monstrous.” Piper’s mother, Ellen, works in journalism.

Piper’s first public art project in high school was inspired by a dream: “I looked into a tree and just saw like hundreds of paper cranes. And the next morning… I said you know what, it’d be really cool to do…an art installation, so I told all my friends. And we were just making paper cranes at night, in classes…we even got teachers to make it, we got students…some people were using, like, homework sheets and stuff, and we ended up with 341 cranes, and that was in a week…the day before midterms started we went out…hung them up….people just loved it. Once again, our identities were anonymous.”

Piper’s family loves the Little Red Heart Project. Jasun, Piper told me, was “blown away that I had taken such initiative, that I had a secret life.” Though the Little Red Heart blog has disappeared from the web as mysteriously as it appeared, Piper continues to scatter her hearts. Her next idea? Some kind of larger scale guerrilla arts movement on Bryn Mawr’s campus. Keep an eye out if you’re in the area, and catch Piper off guard by creating some hearts of your own.