A

Chalk Festival History

The Museum celebrates 25 years of carrying on a centuries-old tradition.

Here we are on the heels of our 25th I Madonnari Chalk Festival and I need to spill the beans. We don’t use chalk. Our “street painters” do not paint. Very few of the some 2000 individuals who participate reproduce images of the Madonna. Yet we are keeping alive a tradition nearly 500 years old. Strangely too this art form, which began during the High Renaissance, seems like a surprisingly recent phenomenon. So how did it begin and why has it become ubiquitous today?

In 16th century Italy beggars, primarily amputees, began looking for an advantage over the other beggars who proliferated in the plazas and market areas around the cathedrals, especially on feast days. Charcoal from braziers became their first drawing implement. They were rewarded for their efforts with coins thrown down by pilgrims visiting the cathedrals. Ultimately the more artistic beggars began copying the portraits of the Madonna, in particular those by the popular early 16th century liturgical artist Raphael. It took nearly 3 centuries for the next big artistic leap in street painting, when the advent of artist pastels in the 1800’s allowed these enterprising folk artists to incorporate color. This became a reasonable livelihood for itinerant folk artists who traveled from town to town following the schedule of holy days and local festivals throughout Italy and were dubbed Madonnari, painters of the Madonna. Throughout the next 4 centuries following the Renaissance, street painters were a common sight at religious festivals throughout Europe. In England these early performance artists were called screevers. In Germany they were strassenmalers. This continued until World War I when large numbers of these vagabond artists were called into service on both sides of the conflict. By the end of World War II the number of Madonnari had dwindled and the tradition had nearly died out. In Italy a handful of older Madonnari was all that was left until young artists in search of a way to support a bohemian lifestyle began to join them.

In 1972 the small village of Grazie di Curtatone in northern Italy decided to celebrate, honor, and hopefully revive this public art form that was once so integral to the fabric of holy day pilgrimages throughout Italy. Hundreds of artists from all over Europe were invited to travel to Grazie to compete in a 48 hour, street painting marathon. The enthusiasm generated was immediate.

A decade later Kurt Wenner left the United States to study classical art traditions in Italy and quickly joined the ranks of the Madonnari as a way to support himself while abroad. In 1985, Kurt became the first non-European to win the coveted Gold Medal at Grazie for three consecutive years and was awarded the title Master Street Painter.

Kurt’s entry into the world of the Madonnari was influential in a number of ways. He was a naturally gifted artist who was well schooled in classical techniques. He admired Renaissance and Baroque traditions in both figurative and architectural subject matter. Kurt’s festival debut showcased the Baroque mural technique of anamorphic perspective typically utilized for murals inside cathedral domes, but adapted by Wenner for the oblique viewing angle specific to street painting. Kurt’s victory was celebrated in his hometown of Santa Barbara, CA, and in the spring of 1986 Kurt returned to Santa Barbara with a classically trained German strassenmaler, Manfred Stader, to introduce the technique of using artist pastels to create art on pavement to a handful of local artists and lend his new found fame to help start the first US I Madonnari festival. The festival, which was the brainchild of Santa Barbara artist and arts advocate, Kathy Koury, was started as a fundraiser for a countywide school arts program, the Children’s’ Creative Project.

Just 4 years after the inauguration of the nation’s first street painting festival, our own I Madonnari Chalk Festival became number two. Santa Barbara County Schools soon added a second festival in the north county to further supplement their fund raising efforts. A few other festivals followed. In the US the Montgomery Museum of Art Flimp Festival and the Lake Worth Street Painting Festival in Florida also celebrated the street painting tradition. Through the 1990’s this was the status quo.

At the beginning of the new millennium, with the increased use of the Internet to share “fantastic” and “inspiring” imagery, Kurt’s 3-D illusionistic images of buildings and people rising out of or falling into the pavement went viral. It didn’t take long for this combination of the Renaissance tradition of the Madonnari combined with the new technique of illusionistic “3-D perspective” to make a splash across the globe. Helped along by public enthusiasm for art that simply popped up out of the sidewalk at you, I Madonnari style Chalk and Street Painting Festivals began to spring up throughout the United States and Europe. The United States is home to the most festivals, particularly in the warm southern states and the dry southwest. More than 50 annual festivals are listed in the United States by the International Street Painting Society with probably 100’s more smaller festivals that are held at schools, churches and community centers. The token street painter or street painting team is now a popular feature of all manner of community festivals.

This centuries old tradition is now ubiquitous around the globe. More talented and academically trained fine artists populate the ranks of street painters. In addition to Kurt Wenner, street artists like Manfred Stader, Eduardo Relero and Edgar Mueller are in demand throughout the world. Even new members of the street painting ranks have their own websites and earn part of their living as featured artists on the US festival circuit. Street Painting festivals are low maintenance, environmentally friendly, great crowd pleasers, and family friendly. They lure visitors to downtown shopping and cultural districts. Everyone can participate.

The bar has been raised. Ironically with it, as teams of street painters seek to create the largest, most jaw dropping 3-D special effects, many of the original tools and techniques are being cast aside as artists employ variations that allow them to work faster, enable their work to last longer and support more dramatic effects. Madonnari working outside of tourist attractions frequently under paint their works on huge sheets of canvas cleverly concealed along the edges so it appears to be the pavement. Many street painting teams first paint their image with tempera paints. And, street paintings are no longer relegated to the pavement as artists incorporate walls and other vertical elements to create entire “walk-in” environments.

 

2014 Chalk Festival
September 13 and 14, 2014

FEATURED CHALK ARTISTS

  • Hector Castellanos-Lara
  • Robin Heinrich
  • Wendy Mahon
  • A. D. Peters
  • Jesse Rhinehart
  • Debra Sue Solecki
  • Rafael Valdivieso
  • Robin VanLear

ENTERTAINMENT ON THE TERRACE

  • Gato's Gullah Gumbo
  • Moko Bovo

2013 Chalk Festival
September 21 and 22, 2013

FEATURED CHALK ARTISTS

  • Anna Arnold
  • Story Rhinehart Cadiz
  • Bruno Casiano
  • Tim Haas
  • Robin Heinrich
  • Mark Jenks
  • Jan Stickney-Kleber
  • Robin VanLear

ENTERTAINMENT ON THE TERRACE

  • Blues DeVille Band
  • Moko Bovo and Cleveland Lindy Exchange

2012 Chalk Festival
September 15 and 16, 2012

Since the festival coincided with the museum's special exhibition Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties, featured artists related their street paintings to the ideas of youth and beauty.

FEATURED CHALK ARTISTS

  • Vince Ballentine 
  • Hector Castellanos-Lara 
  • Dyane Hanslik 
  • Robin Heinrich 
  • Wendy Mahon 
  • Joshua Maxwell 
  • Story Rhinehart 
  • Debra Sue Solecki 
  • Robin VanLear 
  • Sequoia Versillee

ENTERTAINMENT

  • Delicate Balance 
  • DubFlex 
 

2011 Chalk Festival
September 17 and 18, 2011

FEATURED CHALK ARTISTS

  • Mark Jenks
  • A. D. Peters
  • Jesse Rhinehart
  • Jan Stickney-Kleber
  • Rafael Valdivieso
  • Robin VanLear with Robin Heinrich

COMMUNITY MURAL PROJECT
Artists presented previews of their designs for community murals.

  • Anna Arnold, East Cleveland
  • Van Monroe, Fairfax
  • Sequoia Versillee, Glenville
  • Jerome White, Hough

ENTERTAINMENT

  • Blues de Ville Band
  • Cats on Holiday

2010 Chalk Festival
September 18 and 19, 2010

Each featured artist utilized some aspect of the collection to inspire a street painting.

FEATURED CHALK ARTISTS

  • Barbara Chira
  • Wendy Mahon
  • Josh Maxwell
  • Dante Rodriguez
  • Debra Sue Solecki
  • Robin VanLear with Story Lee Rhinehart

COMMUNITY MURAL PROJECT
Artists presented previews of their designs for community murals. Designs were inspired by Cleveland artists in the museum collection.

  • Ed Parker, East Cleveland
  • Neal Hamilton, Fairfax
  • Jerome White, Glenville
  • Anna Arnold, Hough

ENTERTAINMENT

  • DubFlex
  • Cats on Holiday

20th Annual
2009 Chalk Festival

September 12 and 13, 2009

The festival showcased the newly opened east wing, as each featured artist utilized some aspect of the collection to inspire a street painting.

FEATURED CHALK ARTISTS

  • Anna Arnold
  • Roaidi Cartaya Carbajal
  • Hector Castellanos Lara
  • A. D. Peters
  • Jesse Rhinehart
  • Jan Stickney-Kleber
  • Robin VanLear

ENTERTAINMENT

  • DBC (Delicate Balance Collective)
  • The Blues de Ville Band

2008 Chalk Festival

September 20 and 21, 2008

FEATURED CHALK ARTISTS

  • Story Lee Cadiz
  • Mark Jenks
  • George Kozmon
  • Wendy Mahon
  • Debra Sue Solecki
  • Rafael Valdivieso
  • Robin VanLear

ENTERTAINMENT

  • The Blues de Ville Band
  • DubFlex

2007 CMA Chalk Festival
September 15 and 16, 2007

FEATURED CHALK ARTISTS

  • Augusto Bordelois
  • Tim Haas
  • Wendy Mahon
  • A. D. Peters
  • Rafael Valdivieso
  • Edwige Winans
  • Robin VanLear

ENTERTAINMENT

  • The Blues de Ville Band
  • Hue People (a capella)
  • Panic Steel Ensemble