Chalk artists to decorate Market Street pavement

PARKERSBURG – “Chalk Chill” will be held this weekend on Market Street from Seventh to Fifth streets.

Professional artists, college students, high school students and elementary students will display their artistic talents by drawing on the Market Street pavement, said Ken Gilbert, a retired art teacher from Parkersburg High school. The artists will draw from morning to evening on Saturday and on Sunday when the festival will start after church.

Chalk Chill will be the first event to mark the city’s observance of the state of West Virginia’s sesquicentennial, Mayor Bob Newell said. West Virginia became a state by proclamation of Preident Lincoln on June 20, 1863, the only state created during the Civil War.

Market Street will be closed from Fifth to Seventh streets this weekend, Newell said.

The history of chalk street art may go back to 16th century Italy where the “madonnari” were vagabond artists known for a life of travel between festivals, living on the coins they received from passersby, Gilbert said. They were the visual artist counterpart of minstrels, he said.

The religious paintings were directly painted on the beaten earth or paved public squares, Gilbert said. Artists used chalk, brick, charcoal and colored stones as their medium, he said.

Thanks to the International Street Painting Festival in Grazie di Curatone in northern Italy, the madonnaris were revitalized in the 1970s and their art once again became a worldwide phenomenon. The tradition spread to London where the pavement artists were called screevers.

In the early 1980s, the American artist Kurt Wenner introduced the Italian folk art to Santa Barbara, Calif., and became recognized as a “master street painter.” Wenner has started other festivals, including Pasadena’s Chalk Festival.

From 50 to 100 street painting festivals are held each year in the United States, Gilbert said.

Chalk Chill is free to participants, Gilbert said.

“We are asking those in attendance to bring coins to drop in the cans the artists will have beside their work as a show of appreciation of their skills,” Gilbert said.

It’s a good thing for Parkersburg, Newell said.

Newell said he got the idea last year while in Fort Wayne, Ind., and was impressed. Artists got a roughly 4-by-8 foot section of pavement, he said.

“I’ve seen them in other cities,” he said. “They’re professionally done.”