The sight of kids drawing on the pavement with sidewalk chalk is practically guaranteed to induce a bout of nostalgia. As summertime traditions go, getting down on the floor to let one’s artistic imagination run wild is right up there with running through sprinklers and setting up lemonade stands. But what adults trapped in reveries about the long, lazy days of childhood may not realize is that sidewalk chalk art is really a pastime that connects us not just to memories of our smaller selves, but to a rich historical tradition that goes all the way back once 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 initial 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 benefit over another beggars who proliferated in the plazas and market areas around cathedrals, especially on feast days. Some of them decided to generate art , and charcoal from braziers became their first drawing implement. These were rewarded for their efforts with coins thrown down by pilgrims visiting the cathedrals. Ultimately the more artistic beggars began copying portraits of the Madonna, specifically those by the most popular early 16th-century liturgical artist Raphael. These were dubbed Madonnari, painters of the Madonna.
Because the 2011 book Asphalt Renaissance, written by the street artist Kurt Wenner along side B. Hansen and M. Hospodar, explains, madonnari realized they might maximize their earnings by working as traveling artists, moving between towns based on 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, known as “screevers,” emerged in Victorian London and remained a fixture of the town until World War II. Screevers were less closely connected with religious material, but like the madonnari, they made a managing 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 “serious screever,” Bozo specialized in drawing political cartoons informed by the day’s news. (“Once a young child got its head stuck in the railings of Chelsea Bridge,” Bozo said. “Well, I learned about it, and my cartoon was on the pavement before they’d got the child’s head from the railings.”) Orwell suggests Bozo had ample competition among London street artists: “In those days there is a screever nearly every twenty-five yards across the Embankment.” But whereas a lot of Bozo’s peers drew the same everyday, Bozo distinguished himself by taking care of something new—a technique that he said paid off. “The very best thing’s to keep changing your picture, because if they see you drawing they’ll stop and watch you,” he explained.
Screevers were also memorialized in the 1964 Disney film Mary Poppins, occur Edwardian-era England. In the song “Chim Chim Cheree,” 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 creating a living—though the same can’t be said about his hat. “No remuneration do I ask of you,” he sings, “But me cap could be glad of a copper or two.”
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 an excellent part of the 20th century. Then, in 1972, the Italian village of Grazie di Curtatone chose to host an international street-painting competition to honor the real history of madonnari. Your competitors, known as Incontro Nazionale dei Madonnari, was a good success, attracting countless European artists and assisting to revive curiosity about sidewalk painting.
Roughly 10 years later, its profile got another boost from Wenner, who’d become the founder of 3D street art—a technique that uses tricks of perspective to produce 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 a way to create money. He eventually made his way to Grazie’s festival, where he took first place 36 months in a row, then brought his enthusiasm for street painting back again to the US, launching an annual festival—the first in the country—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 has additionally experienced a street-painting festival boom, with events in such varied locales since the Netherlands, Germany, France, England, and Serbia; you can find options in Australia, Canada, and Mexico, too. So in case you encounter some kids smeared with chalk dust come july 1st, inform them to keep at it. There’s a future in sidewalk chalk yet.
Sidewalk Chalk Ideas For Teens Summer Fun Art Chalk art teens