Several homes and businesses along the peninsula are sporting canvas flags with a painted red heart, the work of Boothbay Region Elementary School art teacher Jessica Nadeau. Trying to make the best of remote education, the pre-K through eighth grade teacher prompted her students’ art in April with the book “Maybe Something Beautiful” by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell. The picture book is based on the Urban Art Trail in San Diego, California.
“It was just these open-ended questions or ideas that they could connect to – or not. I just wanted them to have an outlet to make the world beautiful … I think that connection, to life, during a very stressful situation is what will bring anyone through it.”
The first heart Nadeau created was a prop to wave at students during a teachers’ parade in March. The idea came from the Hearts for Heroes campaign for healthcare workers. After the parade, Nadeau put the cardboard heart on her front porch, where it quickly weathered under the summer humidity and sun.
Doing her best to inspire her students, Nadeau began to think about she could do as an artist outside her duties as a teacher and single parent. “One Friday night I was alone in my house ... wondering what to do and I thought, ‛Oh, I'll make a new flag for my front porch.’”
She got out some old canvas, made her first heart flag and put it on her porch. The next day, a friend called and asked her to make one for her, so she did. Then another friend asked, and another.
“I gave a bunch to people I know in town who own businesses just to give them some love, because this is tough.”
Since the idea was catching on and she was documenting her projects on Instagram, Nadeau decided to start selling the flags to raise money for Boothbay Region Community Resource Council. The first flag she sold went to Key West. Most are ending up on the peninsula, and some have gone to Portland, Oregon, San Francisco, New York City and elsewhere.
“Sometimes random people who find me on Instagram, friends of friends … I sent one to Marblehead, Massachusetts of all places. It's good. It's spreading some love, raising some money for the BRCRC which is awesome.”
Nadeau buys all her canvas and grommets from Grover's Hardware and has lost count of how many bolts of material she has gone through. Shortly after she began selling the flags, local sailmakers Nat and Eben Wilson convinced her to start using old sails to craft the hearts. Now, everyone who donates a sail gets a free flag.
Never having spent an entire day working on her flags, Nadeau values time with daughter Pauline and working on other things.
“If I worked 9 to 5, I could probably crank out more, but my priority is my daughter and it's supposed to be a fun project. At first, when I got a ridiculous amount of orders in 24 hours, I got really stressed out and it wasn't fun. I was like, 'oh, no.' That's when I made the rule when Pauline goes to bed, I work until 10. Then it's fun and you're thinking about the person you're making it for. It's a special little moment where you're just making this little thing for someone else.”
Nadeau has completed 50 orders and is working on over 60 and counting. Except by word of mouth, Nadeau has been using Google Forms for orders and keeping the project solely on Instagram to keep it “kind of secret.” The project’s aim is to inspire others during troubling times while enjoying the total immersion of making art, said Nadeau.
“I started it to make the kids feel better at school and then it became something to make me feel better and now it's helping make the community feel better. It's just kind of nice how it's flowing out to everyone.”