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A bumper crop of signs: Hingham farm owner helps kids’ artwork blossom amid pandemic

Farm owner Peter Hersey puts together some of the yard signs featuring children's art that have been displayed around Hingham.
Farm owner Peter Hersey puts together some of the yard signs featuring children's art that have been displayed around Hingham.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

HINGHAM — The lawns along Hersey Street have never looked so festive or busy. Signs congratulate the 2020 graduates of Hingham High School, Wilder Nursery School and Dolly’s Nursery School, various colleges, and both Foster and Plymouth River elementary schools, since the line assigning students cuts across the winding residential street that links South and Main streets near the center of town.

The well-wishing signs are interspersed with somber Black Lives Matter placards, rainbow flags, lots of American flags, and a flock of pink plastic flamingos with a sign saying they’re part of a fund-raiser for the high school rowing program.

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And stretched along lawns up and down the street are posters made by children to express their feelings about the COVID-19 pandemic and how it’s affected their lives.

The children’s artwork is part of Hingham Kids at HeArt, a project that is raising money for two local charities — the Hingham Food Pantry and the South Shore Hospital Generous Hearts Foundation — while providing a creative outlet for kids who are trying to deal with this crazy time.

The idea came from Peter Hersey, a “semi-retired” financial consultant who grew up on Hersey Street on the 22-acre dairy farm that has been in his family since Colonial times — and where he and his wife have lived for the past three years after working to restore the property for the past 15.

The farm, which is no longer an active dairy farm, was an arresting sight before the pandemic, with its rolling pasture often dotted with pregnant cows from Hornstra Dairyin Norwell, and the sturdy white barn, which houses a collection of life-size and life-like animatronic farm animals.

Tucked in a corner of the lot is a restored box and toy-making shop from the 1800s, with original tools, patterns, account books, toys, and signs – which Hersey discovered when clearing a vine-covered derelict shack that had been locked for more than 100 years.

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Hersey’s plan is to preserve the farm and keep it in the family “for another 250 years.” But he also wants to help during the current crisis — and Hingham Kids at HeArt is his way to raise money for charity and lift kids’ spirits. His two daughters are teachers, and he has four grandchildren, so he worried how the pandemic was affecting youth.

“They’re lonely, and confused,” he said. “One day you can go down the street and play with your friends, and the next day school is over and you’re home with a mask and a computer. I wanted to do something for kids.”

He contacted Gretchen Hersey Amonte, a cousin who teaches math at Hingham Middle School, and together they enlisted the help of local schools, businesses, and youth groups. Children from any town could send artwork that shows “their gratitude to first responders and front-line workers, to display their emotions of staying home during this time, and to share their memories and experiences of the COVID pandemic.”

More than 150 kids have entered, and their drawings have been made into lawn signs and displayed along Hersey Street. The pieces range from simple hearts and messages like “Hope,” to a stunning seascape where the sails of a ship are made of blue surgical masks.

Hersey said putting up the signs has been slowed by a shortage of the metal stakes that anchor them to the ground. “I never thought metal stakes would go the way of toilet paper; these are very strange times,” he said.

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(Denny Weston of Westongraphics in Hingham confirmed that it’s been hard to get the metal stakes because of the surge in demand. “People feel compelled to celebrate every milestone with a yard sign,” he said. “They don’t have any other way of celebrating.”)

The posters will be judged by a panel that includes local artist Susan Kilmartin; Czech painter and former Hingham resident Kate Sotolova; Selectman Joe Fisher; middle school artist Max Bohane, who has a line of Hingham-themed note cards; and 2020 Hingham High School graduate and art student Emma Angel.

Prizes will be awarded in three age categories, and the winners will get money to donate to either the Hingham Food Pantry or the South Shore Hospital Generous Hearts Foundation, as well as some cash for themselves.

All children who submit art will get it returned in lawn sign form, and get a chance to tour Hersey Farm.

Parker Bradl, 13, lives on Hersey Street and submitted a piece with the message that the “best way we can work together is apart.”

“I did it because I thought it would be a nice thing to do; it helped charity,” Bradl said. “And I don’t have much to do right now.”

Down the street and next to the Hersey Farm, Martha and Andrew Doggett put a few of the signs on their lawn and said people have been stopping to look at them.

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“I feel like it’s a nice morale booster for the town and a great way to get kids involved in these uncertain times,” Martha Doggett said.

Hersey said lots of people have stopped in front of Hersey Farm to take pictures of the artwork posted there.

Also on display: an antique red tractor pulling a wagon loaded with a life-size toy cow, goat, and pig, and next to a big wooden sign that says, “Together We Can Beat Coronavirus.”

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seltzjohanna@gmail.com.

Peter Hersey shows one of the signs from "Hingham Kids at HeART."
Peter Hersey shows one of the signs from "Hingham Kids at HeART." David L. Ryan/Globe Staff