Someone anonymously posts more than 100 ‘love’ signs on utility poles in the city, many of them in College Hill. We find out who—and why.
By Barry Owens
The signs began to appear last summer, some at eye level, some at tall ladder level, but all of them on utility poles and most of them in the College Hill area. The wooden signs simply read “LOVE” in hand painted letters, and not a single word more. No name, or date, or further instruction. It was difficult to know what to make of them. Church group? Girl Scouts? Cult? Who was installing the signs, why, and how come no one around here seemed to know?
“Maybe it’s a ghost,” suggested Nathan Wilder, a musician, who was asked his opinion while having coffee in the neighborhood last month.
“No,” his friend interjected. “I think it’s probably just somebody being awesome.”
“I wish we had thought of it,” was the response from College Hill United Methodist Church.
“Somebody is being touchy-feely,” said Lewis Street resident Tom Brown. “That wouldn’t be me.” He was poisoning weeds on his lawn at the time.
And then there was Jessica Reyes, a young College Hill artist who rides a bicycle with the word “love” on the rear fender. “Just a coincidence,” she said.
Dan Beck was an early suspect. He is the Uptown resident with the funky rock garden at First and Grove streets and the even funkier house on Poplar Street. “Not me,” he said. His latest project is a jade earring, hand carved into the shape of a hummingbird.
Finally, a phone book was employed. Perhaps Curt Clonts, a local artist who often paints on wood, could help to shed a little light. In fact, the vibrant colors and positive nature of his work does sort of resemble…
“It’s me,” he said, returning the Commoner’s call.
Clonts is an artist in residence at Friends University and the installation of the love signs across the city, he said, was a public art project with a spin—no one could no who was doing it, or why. The hope was that people would just come upon them and wonder.
“I wanted it to be an interactive art project,” he said. “I wanted people to have a thought. I mean, they might hate it, they might consider it a blight, like graffiti, or they might take it as a positive.”
Counting his wife, Taeko, and the head of the department at the university, he said only four people knew what he was up to.
The first of the 110 signs went up in Greensburg, shortly after a tornado leveled the town last summer.
“I had no idea I’d be putting up a sign in Greensburg,” he said. “I got out there, saw the devastation, and thought ‘Wow, if any place ever needed love, it’s Greensburg.’ So I hammered up a sign, and I liked the way it felt hammering that thing up, so I hammered up a few on the way back in on the highway, too. When I got back, I just started hammering around Wichita.”
Clonts said there was a pattern to the installation, as he attempted to spread the “love” where he felt it was deserving—near elementary schools, close to homes of known patrons of the arts, and in College Hill, where he was born and raised.
The signs were installed at night, when he was least likely to be caught. Even so, “I got busted several times by people in the neighborhood,” he said. “They’d ask me, you know, ‘What are you doing?’ One of my neighbors here across the road said ‘Are you having a garage sale?’ I totally lied to him and told him it was for a scavenger hunt.”
A lot of the signs have disappeared in the year since he put them up, but a good number of them can still be spotted in the neighborhood. A large part of the joy in the work is in the thrill of discovery, so we’ll leave the locations out of this story.
Clonts said it was his plan to reveal the project to his students at Friends University at the beginning of this semester, and not a moment before. “If you would have asked me four months ago, I would have denied it,” he said. But last month he seemed relieved, if not delighted, to finally share it with someone.
“I felt like a kid with a funny secret,” he said.