Annual Street Painting Festival colors the world of Montgomery Street
Just shy of 11 a.m., and Syracuse was already sweltering. With only a lazy breeze for a fan and a summer sky sparsely spotted with clouds for cover, there was little reprieve from the heavy heat. And yet, on this 90-degree day, Syracuse appeared far from wilting.
Armed with frozen beverages and shaded by baseball caps and widebrimmed sunhats, Central New Yorkers braved the outdoors to peruse all the ArtsWeek Festival had to offer. Fanning themselves with pamphlets, attendees wove through tents filled with everything from wine bottle wind chimes to hand-carved, wooden music stands. They admired jewelry, clapped for street performers and enjoyed sugar-sprinkled fried dough, buzzing quickly from one vendor to the next.
But when ArtsWeek attendees reached the 100 and 200 blocks of Montgomery Street on Saturday, July 30, they couldn’t help but pause. Thanks to the dozens of artists participating in the Syracuse New Times Street Painting Festival, the sidewalks had begun to come to life.
For 21 years, The New Times has invited Central New Yorkers to decorate the usually pallid walkways. Adults, teens and youth have equipped themselves with boxes full of a whole rainbow’s worth of chalk once a year and allowed their imaginations to run rampant.
As with past contests, participating artists competed to win the title of best adult original work, best teen work, best youth work and recipient of the people’s choice award, along with the corresponding monetary prizes. However, two additional competitions, including a copy of a classic French artist’s work and a box-painting contest, were added to bring new challenges to one of the city’s favorite competitions. With 93 total artists in attendance, 89 participating in the traditional sidewalk art contest and four participating in the new French Masters’ category, the long-established competition had no problem attracting artists.
Although it was Elisabeth Holmes’ first time participating in festival, she leapt right into the hardest section of the contest by joining the French Masters’ competition. And somehow, she made it appear effortless.
After taking a brief water break, Holmes folded her chalk-covered legs and bare feet pretzel-style and picked up a bright white sock. Pausing momentarily to analyze the three female figures hold ing apples looking at her from the sidewalk, Holmes used the sock to smudge and blend her painting’s colors. Although the work was still in its early stages, it clearly resembled Raphael’s “The Three Graces,” the painting Holmes was attempting to recreate.
Encouraged to participate in the contest by her fellow figure drawing classmates, she said she chose to transfer “The Three Graces” onto the sidewalk because she wanted to copy a nude study and loves the number three. And although she was attempting to faithfully remake Raphael’s painting, Holmes said she planned to add her own artistic voice to her work. “My plan is to recreate it so it’s my sisters’ faces,” Holmes explained with a smile.
Despite being new to the sidewalk art contest, Holmes is no stranger to the world of art. With a focus on sculpting, she graduated from Alfred University in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. Now, as she pursues a master’s degree in science education from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Holmes said she plans to help teach students biology using art.
“I always find for me, understanding science and aspects of nature are easier through art,” she said. “People think art and science are on completely different planes. But for me, they melt together.”
As a science teacher, Holmes said she hopes to use creative means to get students excited about science—in particular, biology—and help kids who learn visually understand scientific concepts through art. For now, participating in figure drawing classes and events like Street Painting helps Holmes stretch her creative side. And despite the glaring sun and the blanket of heat, Holmes reported having a blast bringing Raphael’s classic to a Syracuse sidewalk. “It feels so good to be back drawing,” she said.
Across from the French restaurant L’Adour and down Montgomery Street, the traditional Street Painting Festival bloomed in full color. A variety of characters—from the smiling Pokemon Jigglypuff to a wolf concentrating on putting in his contact lenses (the better to see onlookers with)—graced the sidewalk squares. A scrumptious looking, two-dimensional drawing of a steak dinner sat tantalizingly on one square while Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” looked curiously at all who passed her piece of concrete.
Although some characters were borrowed, Ariel Wichmann’s creation was all her own. Standing to the right of her brightly colored creation, the 7-year-old girl from Mattydale smiled widely and waved a hand gloved with chalk. She said she drew the picture of the grinning girl with her dog at home before the contest and decided to share it with the public. Standing in an expanse of bright green grass, the girl and her furry companion are kept company by a bumblebee and a wasp.
When asked about what her character is doing, Ariel was quick to respond. “I think she just wants to stand outside,” she said with a smile, quickly pointing out the cartoon girl’s blue-green eyes. “I like drawing the eyes. The eyes are what I start with.”
Although this is her first time participating in the sidewalk art contest, Ariel said she likes art. “I like to draw mermaids a lot,” she explained with another grin. But for Saturday’s contest, Ariel decided to share her outdoor creation with admiring Central New Yorkers by recreating her drawing, one she calls “Mary Anna.”
By 3 p.m., the artists’ work was coming together. However, for the event’s judges, the hard work of picking the winning creations had just begun. Sharon Blair, who works at Commercial Art Supply, judged the French Masters’ category. Knowing she had a tough job ahead of her, Blair was waiting for the four artists to finish up. “I’m going to look at their original piece and what they put into it, their voice,” she said. “I’m looking forward to seeing their work.”
Serenity Kucharski, who also works at Commercial Art Supply, appraised the adult original work category. Like Blair, Kucharski said she planned to keep an eye out for unique pieces. “I’m looking for something that has a lot of original material in it,” she said. “A piece that when you walk by, you feel something.”
By 4 p.m., artists and onlookers alike had begun to congregate anxiously around the judges’ tent. When the final tally was counted, Syracuse New Times publisher Bill Brod carried a chair out to the front of the tent, stood on it and called for the audience’s attention. Before announcing the winners, Brod asked for a round of applause for the judges, a request the audience fulfilled eagerly. “They had a tough, tough, tough job,” he said. Then, he announced the winners.
Sean Morgan, 23, of Syracuse, won the people’s choice award. For the best adult original work, Eric Williams, 36, of Syracuse, won first place, Melissa Orioli, 20, of Syracuse, won second place and Morgan grabbed third place.
For the teen competition, Tori Meade, 15, of Erieville, won first place (news she greeted with a happy squeal), Emily Widdekind won second place and Allison Gasparini garnered third place. In the youth competition, Marissa Barry placed first, Carolyn Carlic, 11, of Marcellus, placed second and Serena Bowers, 11, of Syracuse, placed third.
In the brand-new French Masters’ competition, Sondra Lennos, 60, of Apulia Station, placed second with an excellently anguished recreation of Gustave Courbet’s “The Desperate Man.” Elisabeth Holmes—the blender of art and science—placed first, a win she accepted with a pleased, surprised smile.
Gina Fortino, an advertising consultant for The New Times, has helped organize the Street Painting Festival for the past two years. Donning a navy blue “Syracuse New Times” T-shirt and a genuinely happy smile, Fortino praised the event for bringing artists and non-artists together; she also kudoed the participants’ talent. “These people are incredible,” she said.
Looking at the masterpieces chalked onto Montgomery Street’s sidewalks, it was easy to agree.
Sidewalk of fame: Among the colorful sights, and their creators, at the July 30 Street Painting contest were (clockwise from top): French Masters’ winner Elisabeth Holmes, Teen first place finisher Tori Meade, Youth third place Serena Bowers, Adult first place winner Eric Williams (whose drawing honored his father Mark, who had died two days before the competition), a colorful scene from street level and Carolyn Carlic, who placed second in the Youth division (facing page).
Cleanup crew: Before the competition could begin, a team from the Downtown Committee was summoned to brush away what the trees had dropped on the Montgomery Street sidewalks from the rain the night before. Hearty thanks to Chuck McFadden, Downtown Committee director of operations; Kevin Stanard, Downtown Committee maintenance crew; Chuck Delaney and Kyle Magdziuk, both from the Syracuse Arts & Crafts Festival.