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The sight of kids drawing on the pavement with sidewalk chalk is practically guaranteed to induce an attack of nostalgia. As summertime traditions go, getting down on the ground to let one’s artistic imagination run wild is right up there with running through sprinklers and creating lemonade stands. But what adults caught up in reveries about the long, lazy days of childhood might not realize is that sidewalk chalk art is really a pastime that connects us not just to memories of our smaller selves, but to an abundant historical tradition that goes entirely back again to 16th-century Italy.

While people have now been using chalk to create pictures since the age of cavemen, the Italian traveling artists known as madonnari appear to own been among the earliest practitioners of street art. Robin VanLear, the Cleveland Museum of Art’s director of community arts, explains in an article on the museum’s website

In 16th-century Italy various beggars, primarily amputees, began looking for a plus over another beggars who proliferated in the plazas and market areas around cathedrals, especially on feast days. A number of them decided to create art , and charcoal from braziers became their first drawing implement. They were rewarded for his or her efforts with coins thrown down by pilgrims visiting the cathedrals. Ultimately the more artistic beggars began copying portraits of the Madonna, in particular those by the popular early 16th-century liturgical artist Raphael. They were dubbed Madonnari, painters of the Madonna.

As the 2011 book Asphalt Renaissance, compiled by the road artist Kurt Wenner along with B. Hansen and M. Hospodar, explains, madonnari realized they may maximize their earnings by working as traveling artists, moving between towns according to religious festival schedules. The Italian tradition continued for centuries, and soon street art began popping up in countries like England and Germany as well.

The English counterparts to madonnari, called โ€œscreevers,โ€ emerged in Victorian London and remained a fixture of the city up to World War II. Screevers were less closely associated with religious material, but like the madonnari, they made a living with their ephemeral art.

In George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, an autobiographical book about poverty published in 1933, mcdougal describes his encounter with a screever named Bozo. A self-declared โ€œserious screever,โ€ Bozo specialized in drawing political cartoons informed by the day’s news. (โ€œOnce a child got its head stuck in the railings of Chelsea Bridge,โ€ Bozo said. โ€œWell, I heard about it, and my cartoon was on the pavement before they’d got the child’s head out from the railings.โ€) Orwell suggests Bozo had ample competition among London street artists: โ€œAt that time there clearly was a screever almost every twenty-five yards across the Embankment.โ€ But whereas many of Bozo’s peers drew the same thing everyday, Bozo distinguished himself by focusing on something newโ€”a method he said paid off. โ€œThe very best thing’s to keep changing your picture, because once they help you drawing they’ll stop and watch you,โ€ he explained.

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Screevers were also memorialized in the 1964 Disney film Mary Poppins, set in Edwardian-era England. In the song โ€œChim Chim Cheree,โ€ Bert, the twinkly-eyed chimney sweep played by Dick van Dyke, boasts about his side hustle Today I’m a screever, and as you can see

A screever’s an artist of’ighest degree
And it’s all me own work from me own memory

Bert is notably less concerned than Bozo about building a livingโ€”although the same can not be said about his hat. โ€œNo remuneration do I ask of you,โ€ he sings, โ€œBut me cap will be glad of a copper or two.โ€

As VanLear explains, many European street artists fought in World Wars I and II, which meant that the practice of professional sidewalk chalk drawing faded for a good the main 20th century. Then, in 1972, the Italian village of Grazie di Curtatone decided to host an international street-painting competition to honor the annals of madonnari. Your competition, known as Incontro Nazionale dei Madonnari, was a great success, attracting countless European artists and assisting to revive curiosity about sidewalk painting.

Roughly 10 years later, its profile got an additional boost from Wenner, who would become the founder of 3D street artโ€”a technique that uses tricks of perspective to create pavement drawings appear to soar from the sidewalk or sink into it. Wenner was studying classical art in Italy in the 1980s and started drawing on pavement as an easy way to make money. He eventually made his solution to Grazie’s festival, where he took first place four years in a line, then brought his enthusiasm for street painting back to the US, launching an annual festivalโ€”the first in the countryโ€”in his hometown of Santa Barbara, California, in 1986.

By the time Asphalt Renaissance was published in 2011, the US was home to between 50 and 100 street-painting festivals each year. Europe in addition has experienced a street-painting festival boom, with events such varied locales whilst the Netherlands, Germany, France, England, and Serbia; you can find options in Australia, Canada, and Mexico, too. So should you encounter some kids smeared with chalk dust come july 1st, inform them to help keep at it. There’s a future in sidewalk chalk yet.

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About Dayana Melton

Dayana Melton
Hello my name is Dayana Melton. I have been working on chalk art for a long time. I will try to explain and show you the experiences I have been working on in chalk art for a long time. If you have any suggestions or questions, you can write to me from the contact section.

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