Wednesday, July 25, 2001

Billings Gazette, Chalk Art by Christene Meyers

On the sidewalk outside Parmly Billings Library, Billings artist Cory Jaeger, paints a chalk rendition of Georges Seurat's famed "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte."

Legendary masterpieces reproduced in Billings to promote weekend events.

A 19th century canvas of a light-filled Paris park inspired a 21st century creation on a summery Billings Tuesday.

A week of chalk-art painting kicked off on the sidewalk by Parmly Billings Library, 510 N. Broadway, as artist Cory Jaeger re-created Georges Seurat's evocative work, "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte."

The much-admired painting introduced Seurat's pointillist technique of painting tiny dots of basic color that fuse in the viewer's eye rather than on the artist's palette. It also inspired the Tony-winning Broadway play, "Sunday in the Park with George," nearly 20 years ago.

The shopgirls, soldiers, tourists, and servants of Seurat's canvas were reborn with intense chalks replacing the Frenchman's paint.

Jaeger said, "We thought it was a good choice for the library's 100th birthday, because it comes from the era. It's Depot Days' present to the library."

And, she said, "It's moody and tells a story, plus it lended itself to the bright pigments that chalk art offers."

Jaeger said that she went through about $20 on the Tuesday painting, which took a couple hours to complete with elbow grease and bright chalk after she roughed out the initial sketch.

She is one of several artists painting on sidewalks throughout the week, donating time and talent to promote Saturday's Chalk Art Festival during Depot Days on Montana Avenue.

The temporary nature of the chalk art is part of its charm.

One of this week's chalk artists, Carol Welch, said, "It's also a wonderful way of introducing classic paintings to the public, of drawing attention to the artwork."

Encoring the Seurat rendition will be sidewalk collaborations of Monet's "Water Lilies" and Picasso's "Bouquet with Hands", along with an original piece.

"We're just thrilled to have these artists painting on the sidewalks all week," said Vicki Van Buskirk, owner of Toucan Gallery. "There's a magic to chalk art because it's temporary and vibrant, and your canvas is a sidewalk."

Van Buskirk recalled that, one year after festival, a huge rainstorm made polka dots on the sidewalk art and blurred everything.

Montana Avenue merchants would like to leave the art around for a few weeks.

"The ghosts live on after the festival, and it's fun to see people walk by and study them," she said.

Chalk art has a history in the United States, and there are even chalk-art websites.

Robert Knight, executive director of the Yellowstone Art Museum, said chalk-art fests thrive all over the world. He has been involved in several in earlier museum jobs in the Southwest.

Knight said major chalk festivals in larger cities have drawn huge crowds and celebrated chalk artists.

"I'd love to work with the Depot folks in securing one of the well-known chalk artists for next year," he said. "The chalk festival goes right along with my notion to expand the arts beyond the walls of the museum facility."

Europeans have a long history of chalk art, and in the 1960s United States, hippies celebrated the times of chalk art as a way of passing on the masters' concepts and creating a fun social event.

Depot Days organizers hope to expand the Chalk Art Festival in 2002 to attract a nationally known chalk artist.

And, Van Buskirk said, "We'd like to get more of our own regional and local fine artists to participate, along with bringing in an expert."