Love is truly everywhere in Auburn; Lego and clay hearts are peppered throughout the city on buildings, utility boxes, and walls. This guerrilla street art has been popping up for years here. Auburn hearts have been discovered as far north as the Interurban Trail near Kent and seem to stop to the south at SR-18.
The Mystery and Evolution of the Auburn Hearts
The public seems to be mostly welcoming of the hearts. Discovering a new heart location can be quite exciting and it is often said that once you see them you always see them. However, how the movement began remains a mystery. Even long-time city employees don’t know the origin of the hearts. Over the years, many have tried to discern the identity of the artist or artists, with no apparent luck.
Most of the hearts have the letters J-A-W on them. The meaning of the initials is also unknown, though one resident suggested it may mean ‘Just Auburn, Washington.’ Several hearts also give a nod to the Star Wars franchise, quoting “May the Force be with you.”
The exact design of Auburn’s hearts isn’t clear, but they appear to be made of clay, with flat Lego pieces epoxied on top. While this is the most favored design, there are some hearts made just of clay. When reviewing the hearts, the evolution of the design and application can also be seen.
Some hearts, such as the one on the SR-18 underpass at F St were placed with a messier application; spray-paint surrounding the heart. Newer hearts, like those on the Merrill Gardens building, have a more crisp design with the J-A-W clearly readable. The method of adhering the hearts to the selected location has also changed. From those that have been removed, it can be seen that a strong epoxy that covered the whole heart was used. Now a smaller adhesive disc is used, causing less damage if the heart is removed.
Finding Auburn’s Heart Through Street Art
There are a few patterns to the placement of Auburn’s hearts. The hearts are placed on stone or brick and tend to be facing outward to the street. The highest concentration of hearts is in the downtown core of Auburn. Many businesses have embraced the heart(s) that have been bestowed upon them, painting around them, painting the heart when their building is repainted, or incorporating the heart in an intricate design on their storefront. In one case, it appeared the heart itself was repainted by the shop owner after vandalism.
Sadly, some of Auburn’s hearts have been removed. One that was placed on City Hall was removed, as the building is government property. Others have been removed by building owners or tenants and, perhaps by some who wanted an Auburn heart for themselves. When a heart is removed it leaves a distinct outline, a ghostly reminder of what was once there.
For many of Auburn’s residents, these hearts simply represent the love of the city.
Have you have seen one of Auburn’s hearts that we don’t have logged? If so, let us know! Send us a photo and it’s location and we will add it to our map. If you don’t have a chance to take a photo, send us the location and we’ll hunt it down and grab a photo to add to the collection.
Update: The Auburn Heartist has been identified. Read our update and interview with the artist, here.