Chalk up another one for Michelle Ronning.
“It’s growing in not just artists but attendees,” said Ronning, founder and director of the Chalk.a.Lot Sidewalk Festival in Two Harbors, as people sat, crouched, kneeled or even lay alongside squares of the walk along either side of Waterfront Drive, creating temporary works of art.
From its humble beginnings three years ago, the event has grown tenfold in terms of its budget, Ronning said, and from 25 registered chalk artists to more than 100.
Where her request to block off one block of Waterfront Drive raised eyebrows three years ago, this year traffic is barred for two blocks. Piles of chalk in multiple colors were placed at intervals in the center of the street, and by late morning on Saturday the street was colored with ample evidence of their use.
Flowers, rainbows, hearts and butterflies were common. Brightly colored human shapes were drawn on one section, with the label, “Some bodies on the street.” Some of the street artists had proudly proclaimed where they came from: “Mason City, Iowa” and “Rockford, Iowa.”
More elaborate artwork was under development on the sidewalks, produced mostly by people who paid for the privilege. A few guest artists had been invited to show off their expertise.
Among them was famed Ojibwe artist Carl Gawboy, who worked with granddaughters Riley Brett and Kiara Marxsen, both 10, to fill a sidewalk panel with butterflies.
The girls and their grandpa all are into butterflies, explained Cindy Gawboy, Carl’s wife.
It was her husband’s first venture into sidewalk art, she said.
Likewise for Lauri Olson Hohman, an artist from Silver Bay. She was using two sidewalk panels at Third Avenue and Waterfront Drive to re-create a Valentine’s Day card she had given to her husband this year. Two Picasso-like figures embrace, she wearing O’s for hugs on her garment and he X’s for kisses on his; a bright blue bird perches above them.
“I’m crazy about it; I love it,” Hohman said of sidewalk art. “Wow! I found out how much I like it.”
On the opposite corner from her, featured artist David Zinn from Ann Arbor, Mich., was at work on one of his trademark whimsical creations.
Using a crack in the sidewalk as his anchor, Zinn had drawn his signature creature Sluggo, which he describes as “this blobby, monster-type creature” with eyes on stalks. It appeared to be sitting on a ledge. Zinn was beginning work on another creature that appeared to be rising out of the ground.
It was “a creature of undetermined taxonomy that I think has wings and maybe hoofs and horns,” Zinn said. “A flying cow, maybe? I’m really not sure. I’m never sure.”
Zinn had scouted the area the night before and found a narrow band of neglected concrete in Thomas Owens Park. “There’s just something I saw in my head that needed to happen there,” he said.
The result, unnoticed by most festival attendees, was another Sluggo figure, grass growing out of the concrete serving as a headpiece and dead grass fashioned as a loincloth.
Next to Zinn, Boni Bieniek of Two Harbors was creating a portrait of a rather forbidding looking woman’s head emerging off a depiction of Lake Superior.
“Ms. Superior would not be tamed, battered, she laughed at the storm, hair tossed, face written with crags, her odd blue scarf adrift,” the script along the edges stated.
“A lot of the old women - and I’m one of them - like the message,” Bieniek said. “We all like to be a little wild.”
A half-block down, the Wilke family - Mark, Cheryl and 14-year-old Christiana - were at work filling their 5-by-6-foot sidewalk panel with a colorful depiction of a train engine emerging from a tunnel between Duluth and Two Harbors.
Cheryl is the artist, Mark said. But the art wasn’t necessarily the point for the family, who are from the Twin Cities but have a lake home nearby.
“We like to do it to just have fun,” Christiana said.
If David Zinn had heard her say that, there’s no doubt he would have agreed.
“Chalk is the great equalizer,” he said. “It’s the least intimidating art medium there is. … It’s Crayolas and it’s underfoot. So you learn very quickly to just get over yourself and let your inner child take over.”
If you go
Chalk.a.Lot continues from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. today along Waterfront Drive in Two Harbors. For a fee, artists can reserve a sidewalk space and receive chalk and other supplies.
More information is at the Chalk.a.Lot Facebook page.