"SF Hearts" Project

Daniel Macchiarini, 2002

Installation, Washington Square Park.

"Valentine Heart"

Daniel Macchiarini, 1982

"Steel Hearts" San Francisco Shipyard story

2004, Daniel Macchiarini

In February1983 I worked at West Winds a small repair shipyard in S.F. as a ship fitter. On Valentines Day in the morning at the beginning of the shift, the welders and fitters "ganged up" as we usually do in the main shop on the pier waiting for the shop/ship foreman to give us our daily assignment. It was cold this morning and I was talking to my welder Mark Bullwinkel affectionately known to his friends a "Bull". Bull was bemoaning the fact that he was not in bed with his lady, "Bell" celebrating Valentines Day in warmth and her comfort. He had just hooked up his cutting torch so he lit it to give us all a little heat. The Forman was still trying to get back to us with what we were going to do that day. Bull was grouchy about the fact that he didn't know what to get Bell for Valentines Day. Out of disgust with himself, he handed me his lit torch and then grabbed a very large piece of 3/8" thick plate steel in the scrap bin by the main slab. Must have weight over a hundred pounds. He took out his soapstone and started drawing a large hart on the steel plate. In the center of the hart he wrote, "Bull loves Bell", took the torch out of my hand and started cutting a 3' diameter hart out of steel.

The foreman had reappeared by this time but ignored Bull as he was preoccupied with giving other teams of welders and fitters their work assignments leaving Bull and I for the last to be assigned. Besides Mark looked very busy and he was working very hard at putting great quantities hot iron sparks and fire on the slab floor in the shop. I was helping him at this point stabilize the steel plate he was cutting into. He managed to hack out his valentine hart for Bell in about 15 minutes at which point I grabbed another piece of scrap metal out of the bin which was cut in a half curved form and a right angle. Bull immediately knew what to do as I held the piece of steel up against the backside of his valentine, he welded it on for an upright stand.

Having finished his 100 lb steel valentine, we stood back and looked at it. "Not bad" Bull said, "hope Bell likes it". "I know she will" I told Bull. "Little big for my lady though" I said. Again I went into the steel scrap bin and fetched out a couple of smaller pieces of 1/2" thick angle iron about a foot long. I then drew out half a hart on each with the soapstone and cut them out. I welded them together so they were self standing. I hit upon the idea of welding a nut in the center/crack of the hart and screwing bolt into it with another small cut out hart welded to the bolt symbolizing my sexual feelings were connected with the love I had for my lady. I knew she would appreciate this symbol in the sculpture. I also integrated two links of steel chain to symbolize our voluntary but strong unbreakable relationship. Thus within 30 minutes there were now two steel valentines finished and sitting on the slab in the shop.

The foreman, who was having a rough morning himself, finally return to give us our assignment, saw the valentines and told us to "through that shit back in the scrap bin" and put us to work refitting and repairing a water tight door for the ship. When the foreman left again we, of course, fished our steel valentines out of the scrap bin. By this time other welders and fitters had seen what we were doing, came over and gave their opinions of our work and how it might be made better. I smile and actually changed the tilt of the screw into the bolt a little based on what one of them said. Bull was less than receptive to their artistic critiques and instructed them to go off and make one of their own for their lovers if they didn't like his. This instruction was taken literally. The foreman was preoccupied in his office studying prints and talking on the phone. Soon the entire shop of 20 or so welders and ship fitters were busy making steel valentines in between the work they were assigned to do.

Meanwhile Bull and I hid our valentines under the shop steel slab, continued working on the water tight door and marveled at how inspired the rest of the workers in the shop had become by spontaneously getting into art making steel valentines. After lunch the word spread to the welders and ship fitters on the ship. Soon the entire yard of over a 100 workers were making steel valentines. The riggers and machinists in the next shop got into the act and started machining out harts. The foreman came out about 3:00 p.m., look around the shop at what was happening, gave a stare to Bull and I and shouted above the noise of the shop at us, "I DON'T EVEN WANT TO KNOW!!!!!!!"turned and walked back into his office and just closed the door.

At the end of shift, 10 minutes before the "horn" sounded over a 100 shipyard workers were lined up at the time clock waiting to "punch out" with small steel valentines that they took home that night!

After we punched out, Bull pulled his VW van onto the pier and I helped him load his 100 lbs. valentine in and grab my small foot long one from under the slab. The foreman was smiling and just shook his head as we drove off. Both our women loved the steel valentines we brought home that night. The next few days there were very many interesting stories about how the other workers women, lovers and wives received theirs.

Mark Bullwinkle is now a working as a metal sculptor/artist as I am. Our ladies still have the valentines we made that year.

So the steel heart I make for the Hearts program is a heart that was first made and designed in a workplace in San Francisco on a cold Valentines day not so long ago.