Eric Telchin saw the first one in July 2009 in a puddle of melted ice cream.
There, in the sticky substance on his kitchen counter in West Palm Beach, was the shape of a heart.
He pointed it out to his friends, and they laughed about it. But although the chocolate heart was wiped away, the shape never left Telchin’s sight.
He began seeing hearts every day, everywhere. In sidewalk cracks. On leaves and flowers. As a crumpled napkin at a bar. In patterns of light. As a coiled-up snake. Each time he saw one, Telchin took a picture of it on his iPhone and shared the photo on Facebook.
A collection of his findings—ironically for Valentine’s Day, 214 images—has been made into a book, See A Heart, Share A Heart ($12.99, Dial Books/Penguin Young Readers). The images come straight from his iPhone, none retouched, and short descriptions are scattered throughout the pages. Most of the hearts featured were found locally, including a madeleine from Café Boulud and a shell picked from the beach at the Boca Raton Resort and Club. Since 2009, Telchin has captured thousands of hearts in the area.
“There’s a lot of love in Palm Beach County,” he says.
After Telchin spotted the first heart in the ice cream, he set a goal to find 99 more. Once he did, he created a matrix out of the photos.
The reaction to the montage blew Telchin away. Friends and family members wanted copies. The positive responses motivated him to launch in 2010 Boy Sees Hearts, an online campaign to share the lesson he learned in finding hearts: Love is all around, if we only look for it.
"Seeing a heart brightens your mood," Telchin says. "It can give you a different perspective."
His project has caught on, and Telchin now regularly receives heart submissions—online and in person. A man on the beach showed him the shell from the Boca Resort. Another person looking to adopt a dog spotted one with a heart-like patch on its eye.
Telchin uses the photos to make art compilations, forming images like a shark, a skull and an eye out of them, while continuing to photograph naturally occurring hearts daily. He gave his neighbor a photo he took of the perfectly heart-shaped twist ties of her garbage bag outside her home. “She probably thought I was crazy for taking a picture of it,” he says. “But now she has it framed.”
In November 2010, Telchin’s “heartwork” caught the attention of producers at ABC’s Extreme Home Makeover. They asked him to design a mural for a 10-by-9-foot wall in a 10-year-old Texas girl’s new bedroom. He created four large heart images, composed of hundreds of photos.
Locally, Telchin has given presentations at elementary schools throughout South Florida. He shares his heart discoveries and speaks about looking for positivity in everyday life. The message resonates the most with young audiences, he says.
“Kids see the world differently than [adults] do. They’re more open to it,” Telchin says. “After talking to these kids, they started seeing hearts immediately.”
On Valentine’s Day 2011, students at Melaleuca Elementary School in West Palm Beach were so motivated by Telchin’s speech that they created a mural out of hearts they drew. Their excitement inspired him to publish See A Heart, Share A Heart, released in December, which he calls “a book of love.”
“Everyone has their own take on it,” he says. “For some, it’s reassurance; some, inspiration.”
For others, appreciation. A second-grader in Broward County told Telchin in a letter that finding hearts makes her feel loved and helps her forget the mean names she’s been called. “It validated the book,” Telchin says.
See A Heart, Share A Heart is about giving others “the gift of hearts and the ability to see them in their own lives,” he says. Although the book is geared toward children, Telchin hopes readers of all ages grasp the universal message: Give love.
“It’s really amazing,” he says. “I never expected this to happen from a puddle of ice cream.”