A valentine from graphic designer Marian Bantjes is more than just a valentine—it is an artwork, to be cherished and displayed year-round. These unique cards are coveted by design enthusiasts; by lovers of ornament, who believe that at least sometimes, more is more; by the curious, the whimsical, and those who, like Bantjes, wonder. Each year, she creates new valentines, and hopefuls check their mailboxes to see if they were lucky enough to receive one.
Cooper-Hewitt owns six of Bantjes’s 2010 valentines. Originally Christmas cards, each is laser-cut into impossibly delicate and elegant hearts.
Within the larger shape are additional hearts—some with scalloped edges, others perfectly smooth—intertwined shapes, and two Cupids with bows and arrows. While the Christmas elements are mostly abstracted, in some, the remnants of a red tree ornament or a poinsettia come through, but the rest is a beautiful mystery. Bantjes has called herself “undeniably playful,” and in transforming mass-produced, mediocre (some, she has said, were “downright ugly”) products into individual works of highly desirable art, she has proven her playfulness once again.
The layers of meaning on these valentines are endless. Each of the approximately five hundred cards Bantjes made in 2010 is unique, perhaps a poetic comparison to the friends and colleagues to whom she sent them. At a time when it seems all romantic gestures are mass produced—a Hallmark card, Godiva chocolates, a Tiffany engagement ring—Bantjes reminds us of the beauty of individuality. Past cards, which she has sent every year since 2005, have included love letters, individually hand-drawn hearts, and travel postcards overprinted with a design. But I have an affinity for the up-cycled Christmas cards, combining two holidays that both need a little more love, and a little less mass production.
And although Bantjes likes to surprise us with new ideas each year, she isn’t afraid to share her secrets: read her process for making the 2010 valentines in her own words or listen to her discuss her work and the 2010 valentines in her TED talk of that year.
Marian, if I promise to embrace beauty and wonder and individuality, next year, will you send me one too?