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Mill Valley resident brings people together through his heartfelt art projects

Mill Valley artist build community through thoughtful projects
Mill Valley artist build community through thoughtful projects 03:56

A Mill Valley man known for his public art projects that bring his neighbors together is being honored for providing gifts to his community.

The vibrant flowers that fill Tim Ryan's Mill Valley backyard don't need water. They're rooted in community spirit.

"It's joy. It's simply just joy," Ryan said. "That's my idea."

He tries to create joy and healing through his public art. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he wanted to unite people in an uplifting project they could participate in while remaining safely socially distanced.

"It's easy to find darkness if you look for it. I try to be the good in the world that I want to see," Ryan explained.

He took metal rings from wine barrels and bent them into heart shapes. Then he left eight hearts outside his home with a note attached instructing whoever picked the hearts up to give them away to folks who were struggling.

People snatched up the hearts. One woman came back.

"She said, 'I want to let you know I didn't give it away. My dog had died that morning when I found the heart and I kept it. I took at it every day.'" Ryan recalled. "And I said, 'I've got to make more.'"

So he bought hundreds more metal rings to shape more art and touch more hearts. The project is an emotional one for volunteer Christine Del Castillo.

"It's the hearts. I've made a lot. I'm given away so many of them," she explained, tearing up as she spoke. "People cry when I've given them. I've mostly given them to people whose husbands have passed away or their wives, their dad, or mom. They mean things to people."

To date, Ryan and his volunteers have given away more than 1,800 hearts. The goal is 2,000. Those who are interested reach him through his Instagram account, @tim_ryan_mv.

Ryan, who works for the San Rafael city school district, has more recently spent weeks on another project. Dozens of volunteers meet on weekends to work on his annual float in the Mill Valley Memorial Day Parade.

They're painting hundreds of cardboard, wooden and 3-D flowers. The art is the glue that binds the people together.

In Ryan's backyard, strangers become friends, according to volunteer Jill Sampson.

"I just think he's such a community treasure," Sampson said.

In the last few years, Ryan's volunteers lent a hand to build other parade floats and decorate water drop shapes to highlight the drought. They've felt their spirits soar through his "wings" project.

And now, he's giving away fairy doors that are finding homes all over the Bay Area. 

"When a kid comes around the corner and has to interact with a fairy door, their response is magic. It's real. I want to be the adult I wish I had in my life when I was a kid," Ryan said.    

So for bringing his community together through art, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Tim Ryan.

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