Miami Artist's Safety-Pin Drawing Becomes a Viral Pantsuit Nation Symbol

Unbroken, colored pencil and pastel pencil, December 2016
Unbroken, colored pencil and pastel pencil, December 2016 Lars Furtwaengler
In the weeks since the 2016 presidential election, the Facebook group Pantsuit Nation has become a sort of support group for liberals. Started as a secret space for Democratic voters, especially those in red states, to voice their political opinions, Pantsuit Nation grew exponentially as the battle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump grew more intense. Today it has nearly 4 million members worldwide, who daily post expressions of grief, messages of hope, and personal stories about how political policy has affected their daily lives.

Among the members is Lars Furtwaengler of Palmetto Bay. An immigrant from Germany, Furtwaengler is a marketing executive by day and an artist by night. Though he was unable to vote because of his status as a permanent resident, Furtwaengler and his family were vehement Hillary Clinton supporters during the election. He was invited to Pantsuit Nation by his wife, who voted for Clinton.

Furtwaengler was typically quite prolific in his art, creating on average one photorealistic colored-pencil drawing per month. But in the days after the election, he hadn't drawn a thing; he couldn’t find the inspiration after what he describes as a crushing loss. That dry spell broke after Christmas, when Furtwaengler sat down for an intense 12-hour drawing session. His piece, titled Unbroken, is a colored-pencil-and-pastel drawing of a crumpled, torn piece of white paper with a scribble of a vermilion heart. A large open safety pin holds the two halves of the heart together. (The safety pin became a symbol of tolerance after the election, when people began wearing them to express support for women and minorities who were the targets of violence after Trump's election.)

Looking to share his work, he posted Unbroken on the Pantsuit Nation Facebook page January 2 at 6:12 p.m. with the following comment: “I immigrated to the US 13 years ago... We are raising three wonderful kids. Our oldest, an 11 year old girl, was as excited as her parents to see a first female president get elected. November 9th hit us very hard. It took only hours from the election results to hear my first ‘Go back to where you came from if you don’t like it here.'”

He continues, “I am a colored pencil artist in my limited spare time. I had not touched a pencil since the election. I had been struggling with inspiration. I ended up finding it again in this group. And so I’d really like to share my latest piece with you, if I am lucky enough to get approved.”

Furtwaengler didn’t expect his post to be approved by group moderators, but within minutes, the likes rolled in by the hundreds, then the thousands. His post became a viral sensation with nearly 8,500 likes and more than 600 comments in 24 hours.

“I didn’t get much sleep on Monday and Tuesday. It was overwhelming and mind-blowing," Furtwaengler recalls. "I did not see this coming. I submitted it because I wanted to share, not for attention. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I’ll tell my grandkids about it.”
via Facebook
Furtwaengler believes the popularity is due to timing and empathy. “People share my heartbreak,” he says. One comment on the post quotes Carrie Fisher’s words — controversially repeated by Meryl Streep at the Golden Globes — “Take your broken heart; make it into art.” The simplicity of the ripped heart and safety pin touched the feelings of the members of Pantsuit Nation. Another comment read, “I have taught art... for 21 years, and think I have not seen a more effective message delivered by simple imagery.” One commentator even said the image might soon become her first tattoo.

Furtwaengler says the pin in his drawing is a symbol of inclusion and safety. The work shows an open pin, leaving the story open-ended for the viewer. The needle could either sting the hand or put the heart back together, illustrating the choice that many members of Pantsuit Nation have now that the presidency is sealed.

Furtwaengler’s viral post led to sales of T-shirts, prints, coffee mugs, and art boards on his online storefronts. Because posting on Pantsuit Nation’s page strictly prohibits commercial activity, Furtwaengler sent nearly 100 private messages to commenters who requested merchandise. However, he insists his posting on the group's page wasn’t motivated by money or fame. “I have no aspirations to be a full-time artist. I make art for peace and relaxation at night. I know I won’t be an artist superstar, but I want to share pieces if they inspire people.”

Furtwaengler says the goal of making Unbroken and being a member of Pantsuit Nation is to promote positivity and togetherness, not to denigrate the president-elect. “This is a positive message, not a negative message bashing Donald Trump. My whole family and friends were in mourning after the election because everything wrong in world got rewarded,” he says. “While so many of us are heartbroken, we remain unbroken. We are healing together, we are stronger together, and we will ensure that love will ultimately trump hate.”

See more of Furtwaengler's work at RedBubble and Society6.
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Minhae Shim Roth is an essayist, journalist, and academic.
Contact: Minhae Shim Roth