The Heart Lady of Falmouth Speaks Out

Written by Laura M. Reckford

Karyn Phares has been distributing rocks she paints with hearts all over Falmouth as a way to spread hope.

FALMOUTH – The painted hearts that have become ubiquitous around Falmouth started out as one local woman’s way to spread joy and love during the pandemic last year. 

Karyn Phares, an art teacher for the local school system, is the artist behind the hearts. In her statement below, she clarifies why she started the project and that she has obtained permission for the painted rocks and boulders on private property.

She said she was not aware she needed permission for placing rocks on public property, such as on the Shining Sea Bikeway and at Peg Noonan Park.

Over the course of the past year and a half, Phares began using larger rocks and painting boulders and stumps around town, inspired by people who said they liked the image. According to Phares, she has placed about 700 rocks around town, most that are small stones but others as large as several hundred pounds.

Some in town have come out strongly against the hearts, saying there are too many and they are marring the beauty of the natural landscape. There have been letters to the editor of The Falmouth Enterprise both for and against the hearts, and a lot of social media conversation about them.

The controversy ended up before the Falmouth Selectmen last week as the Town Manager clarified that the rocks cannot be placed on public property without permission from town officials.

Phares explained in the following statement how she started the project.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, many of us were feeling scared and hopeless,” Phares wrote. “People were isolated, dying, losing jobs and homes.  Problems that existed before the pandemic got worse. The news reported stories of violence and sadness. Many of us had and continue to have private struggles too. I am one of those people.”

Phares continued, “Then I started seeing yard signs supporting various groups of people.  It gave me a good feeling that I really needed.  It made me want to be good, like the people who put those signs in their yards. I wanted to give a good moment to as many people as I could. I thought a simple red heart would be universal, nonexclusive, perfect. I hung a sign with a big red heart on it from an old sign post in my front yard.  Then I decided to put a black line around the heart just to be sure it would be seen by cars driving by.”

She noticed drivers slowing down to admire her sign. She said, “I decided to try to spread more good moments to people in random places that might not drive by my house. That’s how the heart rocks started.”

Phares explained why she started using larger rocks. “The multitudes of rocks that people talk about were tiny for a while,” she said. “Then I noticed the rocks were disappearing. I started to make them bigger in hopes that the rocks would be less convenient to move or take. Now there are approximately nine quite heavy rocks that I have placed around town with the intention of giving a good moment to as many people as I can.”

The negative comments about the rocks has been difficult for Phares. “I acknowledge there are some who do not like what I am doing,” she said. “My intention was to do good, not to upset anyone. Everyone is entitled to their opinion without being malicious.”

Several letters to the editor concern a large stone at the Quissett lights on the way to Woods Hole.

Referring to that rock, Phares said, “There is one heart rock in particular, that has angered a few people. It is on private property and was painted by request. The owners and I had good intentions. But the heart is not meant to create negativity, so the rock owners and I are working toward a solution.

Phares also wanted to reach out to the many people who have expressed support for her and the hearts “I know you are upset that not everyone feels as we do. I so appreciate you all and I am grateful for your joy when you see the hearts,” she said.

As for the future, Phares said that she will limit her painted rocks in Falmouth to making them for those who request them. Now that she understands the permission needed to place rocks in public places, she will be sure she has permission before doing that.

She also plans to reach out to other towns to see if they would like a heart rock in a prominent place.

She feels her original message has gotten out to the Falmouth community, so there is no need to continue to place rocks around town. “Falmouth has plenty of love now,” she said.

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About the author

Laura M. Reckford

Laura M. Reckford is co-founder of Cape Cod Wave. She has been a reporter and editor on Cape Cod for more than 20 years in magazines, newspapers and radio. She has also authored numerous Frommer's Travel Guide editions on Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

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