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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Chalk artists inspire on Mount Vernon

A street artist chalks out a facial profile of Jay Leno at Chalk the Walk in Mt Vernon last Saturday. - Emily Bajet
Professional artists and townsfolk alike came together this weekend to share in the wonder known as Chalk the Walk—an annual celebration in which a street in Mount Vernon, IA is partitioned off for people to chalk images of their choosing.

According to Mount Vernon’s website, the festival has its origins in a 16th Century Italian art form, Madonnari, in which street artists depicted religious subjects on the streets in order to earn money. There, the Madonnari was coined from the Madonna herself—the Virgin Mary in Christian art—as it was a subject so frequently drawn by the street artists that people saw it fit to name the art form after the religious figure. Although it’s been a long time since its humble beginnings, Madonnari has spread throughout the world, and managed to create a new tradition in a little Iowa town.

When I went to Mount Vernon last Saturday to view this spectacle, I was amazed. I don’t know how Iowa’s version of the Madonnari compares to the real thing. Either way, I felt that this carefree, fun festival was the perfect way to herald the warmth and sun of an Iowa summer and definitely held its own.

Mount Vernon successfully translated the original majesty of this art form, making it work in the town’s small settings. All along the street, chalk squares of about 10 feet by 12 feet adorned the ground, created by people with ranging artistic abilities. Although one professional Madonnari artist was called in to create a 12 feet by 12 feet recreation of an Italian Renaissance painting, everything else was left to the public’s domain, including one 3,000 square foot mural depicting a scene from the Wizard of Oz. For $10, anyone could buy a 2 feet by 2 feet square of the canvas and contribute to the artwork.

All varieties of chalk drawings were apparent on the black top, including images of still lifes, impressionism, landscapes, and even characters such as The Little Mermaid, Wolverine and Jay Leno. Tools I didn’t even realize existed in the realm of chalking were brandished nonchalantly by every other artist, including professional shading and smudging gloves, and an array of pastels. Perspective, shading and dimension were not absent from this festival, and left more than just me ogling the beautiful drawings.

Non-professional artists made their views known as well, through various simple drawings depicting bedazzled rainbows, environmentalist slogans and even a picture of the Iowa countryside. Children who didn’t have a mural of their own to decorate brought their own chalk to the party and decorated the sidewalks as well as whatever other space was available, adding to the picturesque scene.

To accompany the stunning imagery created by the chalk artists, food vendors adorned the sidewalks, peddling food of the Iowa variety, usually consisting of BBQ pulled pork, pickles, and hotdogs. Besides the wholesome food, cute shops such as the Silver Spider added another element to the rich festival, making it a pleasurable occasion overall.

This festival is definitely not something to miss, whether you’re ogling the drawings like me, or adding contributions to the pavement itself.

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