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An Eye for Art: Westminster woodworker, in the business of giving, spreads the message to ‘Be Kind'

Eric Hyde Miller and Tina Thomas beside one of their "Be Kind” signs.
Eric Hyde Miller and Tina Thomas beside one of their "Be Kind” signs. (Courtesy photo)

Eric Hyde Miller is a woodworker from Westminster. Miller got his artistic talent from his mother’s side of the family. She quilts and at one time did decoupage. His uncle is a retired art teacher in Philadelphia.

Miller’s first woodworking project was building a beehive with his father when he was in first grade. Then Miller helped to build his parents house in 1976 at 13 years old. As an adult he was busy making a living and raising his son as a single parent. Miller paid his bills by being a carpenter.

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“I love working with wood. I have always been intrigued by the grain,” Miller said. He started collecting driftwood because he was fascinated by the shapes that often resemble fish. One of his favorite pieces of driftwood resembles an otter laying on its back and swimming. Miller treats the wood with a sealer, then he mounts the driftwood on beautiful grain-enhanced boards.

About five years ago Miller found he was able to spend more time in the art and yoga communities. He also got involved in the music scene. Miller likes to go to local venues and makes signs for the bands. He buys premade wood letters to create some of his signs. He gave a sign to the Cris Jacobs Band that tours nationally and other bands display his signs on stage with them.

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According to Miller, “In the music scene people have little things they hand out. At first, I handed out ‘Teach Peace’ and ‘Be Kind’ printed on paper stickers.”

Then one day when he was in a store buying wooden letters, he found plain wooden hearts. He said to himself, “I am going to give them out. They are much more tangible than stickers.” Miller painted them and added the infinity symbol on the front.

Miller and his partner, Tina Thomas, talked one night about the hearts and came up with a name for handing them out, calling it the Infinite Love Project. They decided to give out Miller’s painted wooden hearts to spread goodwill.

“We took a pocket full of hearts to events and handed them out,” Miller said, “for when we sense someone needs a little extra love.” Thomas added, “It’s for people who appear to be stressed and could use some kindness, appear to be marginalized and could use positive reinforcement, who deserve gratitude, a thank you, or just need a smile.”

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“We’ve had so many people come up and tell us how much the heart means to them,” Miller said.

One woman keeps hers on her nightstand. Another found it in between the seats of her car when she was cleaning it and said it made her day. Months after giving them a heart, people will enthusiastically approach Miller to show him they still have it in their wallet or pocket.

Through feedback they have received personally and on their Facebook pages, the hearts have made it to Europe, South America, Asia and across the United States.

“The premise or Seva that drives everything we do is to make the world a kinder place,” Miller said. “We want to do that for free if we can. We put together a website so you can order a free set of hearts to give away. It is the core of what we are trying to do; spreading kindness and encouraging others to do the same. People can also buy them in larger quantities to support the project.”

The proceeds are used for supplies to make more and give away an initial set to anyone who wants one.

When Miller was painting the hearts, he noticed the image on the wood underneath. The heart images were stenciled on the wood he was using as a base. Now the bases have become a type of art in themselves. On one, the base art looks like butterflies with the reverse images of two hearts together.

Several months ago, Miller became disheartened after reading too many negative news articles so he decided to make “Be Kind” signs. He started installing them around Westminster.

Then the rectangular signs evolved into the shapes of crayons. The crayons are made from reclaimed plywood to be kind to the planet. “I want the signs to speak to children about kindness for our future,” he said.

“Someone took a photograph of a crayon I put up for my Aunt Mitzi in Woodsboro,” Miller said. “It resulted in a thread on Facebook where one endearing comment read, ‘Be Kind — The most important thing you learn, and you learned in kindergarten’.”

“We have installed over 400 ‘Be Kind’ signs in public spaces,” Miller said. “People also purchase the signs, ranging in price from $15 to $50. That money goes to help us keep the messages going.”

Miller and Thomas have distributed 16,000 hearts so far but that came to a halt with the coronavirus pandemic. “We have been leaving them in fun places to be found and hopefully make someone smile.” Thomas said. “Now the signs have taken off in popularity. Pastor Malcolm of the Westminster United Methodist Church posted a video on the church’s Facebook page talking about the ‘Be Kind’ signs.”

“The hearts and signs are making a positive impact and we have Kindness Envoys distributing signs in six states so far,” Miller said.

Thomas and Miller are striving to be good stewards of their new “business of giving” and are working with the Community Foundation of Carroll County to set up a nonprofit organization called “Action for Kindness.”

A part of the proceeds from every sale goes to the nonprofit which benefits people in the local community who are also working to make the world a kinder place. Miller says, “Everything works a little bit better when you are around kind and empathetic people.”

Miller and Thomas can be contacted through the websites InfiniteLoveProject.com and BeKindSign.com, or by email, payitforward@infiniteloveproject.com.

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