When You Wish Upon a Postcard

Community art installation featuring anonymous residents’ true Christmas wishes goes up in Bigfork

By Molly Priddy
Natalie Paulsen and Amy Dempster take a break from decorating in Bigfork on Nov. 30, 2018. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

BIGFORK — Amy Dempster and Natalie Paulsen really want to know what you would like for Christmas.

Not, “What do you think you should say you want for Christmas?” or “What are the commercials saying I need?” but instead a true question of what it is the people of the Flathead Valley desire, in their heart of hearts.

This is a deeply personal question, with a level of intimacy many people will not allow just anyone to see. But what about when the desires are anonymous, when they’re hung across a cheery window display in Bigfork’s downtown?

Dempster and Paulsen intend to find out with their new project, which takes anonymous holiday wishes from local people and posts them in an art installation each week at the former Collage Gallery on Electric Avenue.

The project is based off the popular PostSecret endeavor, in which a man in Pennsylvania receives people’s deepest secrets on anonymous postcards and posts them online and in books for others to see. The power of the project is based in the anonymity, which frees people up to be honest, with everyone else and themselves.

Instead of having secrets on the postcards, Dempster and Paulsen give the prompt, “All I want for Christmas is…” and the sender fills out the rest. Despite the display not going up until Dec. 1, they had already received a pile of postcards, Paulsen said.

“I love the idea of people being able to wish for things,” she said. “There’s something nice about being able to be anonymous in a small town.”

Contributions can be simply written on a piece of paper, or put on an actual postcard or original artwork or photograph. Pretty much any medium works, as long as the sender remains respectful of whoever is opening it.

Initial postcards show few material desires, instead offering up wishes to “be loved as much as Kanye West loves himself,” or “I wish our foster child would sleep through the night.”

Dempster and Paulsen, partners in Only in Bigfork marketing, decided to pursue the project after the Bigfork Area Chamber of Commerce announced its first-ever holiday window display contest this year. They wanted to participate but didn’t have a storefront, so they got in touch with the owner of the Collage Gallery and got permission to light up the otherwise empty building with their postcard display.

Postcard submissions will be accepted through the end of the month in a collection box in front of the art display and by mail.

To sweeten the project even more, Only in Bigfork teamed up with PureWest Real Estate in Bigfork and Realtor Jennifer Shelley; PureWest will donate $1 for each postcard received to Child Bridge, which is a Bigfork-based nonprofit that helps equip foster and adoptive families to care for children, up to $700.

Dempster and Paulsen said that if they received any monetary award for the window display contest, that award would also go to Child Bridge.

One of the interesting aspects they’ve discovered so far from their holiday postcards is that people might think they know everything there is to know about their community and the other people in it, but these postcards show there are facets yet to be known.

“We felt this could be a display of the community,” Dempster said. “And who knows? Maybe what you have is something someone else is wishing for.”

They hope their project catches on enough to be able to change out the display with new wishes each week, and add to the holiday spirit in a village known for it.

“Bigfork in the most beautiful way has a long history of traditions,” Paulsen said. “And if someone comes here and there’s something a little new and it makes them want to come back, that’s the goal.”

Postcards can be mailed to: Only in Bigfork, P.O. Box 2755, Bigfork, MT 59911. For more information, visit www.onlyinbigfork.com.

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