Ephemeral art rules at chalk festival

New Paltz artist Johanna Sky was inspired to create this image of the fire goddess Pele after a trip to the Hawaiian volcano of the same name.

Twenty-five years ago, the first chalk festival came to Santa Barbara, California; and this past weekend, the first chalk festival made its way to New Paltz at the Water Street Market. Thousands of people rolled into the Market in downtown New Paltz to check out the chalk-works in progress, which included professional chalk artists from California and Florida, as well as local artists getting their hands chalked up to create something dynamic in this temporary art medium.

“The turnout has been way beyond any expectations we had,” said Theresa Fall, the organizer of the event and the Water Street Market’s community events and programs director. “This weekend, the Market has been busier than I’ve ever seen it.” Asked to what she attributed the success of the first annual Chalk Festival, Fall said, “Because we’ve never had one in this area, and I think it’s something new and intriguing and people wanted to see what chalk art was all about, and it’s amazing!”


The upper parking lot of the Water Street Market was transformed from black pavement into a sea of color, three-dimensional drawings, portraits, abstract art and people lined up body-to-body to get a glimpse of the artists at work.

One of the artists whom the Market brought in from Santa Clarita, California was Lorelle Miller, who over the weekend, working 12 hours a day in the hot sun, created a chalk version of Jasper Francis Cropsey’s mid-19th-century painting Autumn on the Hudson River. “I do landscape art, and when I was invited to come here, I began to study the Hudson River School of painters and fell in love with this painting,” she said. Asked what it is about chalk art that draws her and other professional artists to the medium, she said, “It’s a temporary public performance art that is ephemeral. You rarely get the chance to see artists working, and with chalk art, you get to interact with people and they get to enjoy the process with you.”

Many of the artists who were paid to fly in and stay for the weekend had sponsors for their work to help offset the cost. Miller’s sponsor was the Woodcrest Community, who also provided free and highly artistic face-painting to the hundreds of kids attending the Festival.

The oohs and aahs of the crowd could be heard behind several street-paintings, including that of veteran chalk artist Rod Tyron, who was the person who met the Market’s owner Harry Lipstein on a plane and gave him the idea to bring a chalk-art festival to New Paltz. “The first chalk festival came to Santa Barbara 25 years ago, where I was living, and I tried it and loved it and have been doing it ever since,” said the artist, who was working on a 3-D pool, complete with a diving board, a slide and an alligator coming up from the depths. “I want to jump in,” said Aimee Hemminger, who was there with her three young girls to view the art-in-progress. “But I think I’ll wait until the water depth gets a little deeper and the alligator goes away!” she said with a laugh.

“What’s great about chalk art is that you get an immediate response from people and can talk with them while you work, have a dialogue about art. That’s very different than being in your studio, alone,” noted Tyron. Asked how he liked the New Paltz area, as chalkfests have rarely if ever been seen in the Northeast until this past weekend, Tyron said, “This is a great town with great people, and they seem to really be enjoying the art, which is great. That’s why we do it.”

Wayne and Cheryl Ren-Shaw from Santa Clara, California, who were sponsored by Rock & Snow and New Paltz Kayaking Tours, were working on a 3-D piece of rock climbers ascending a cliff. “That is awesome; it’s absolutely realistic,” said Dan Burn of Middletown, who was there with his wife and children to check out the chalk art. “I can’t believe that this is really a parking lot, because right now I feel like I’m on a cliff ledge about to see these climbers come over the top! This is wild.”

There were also several local artists, including Greg Lornell, Ryan Cronin and Todd Martin, and many more trying their hand at the medium and coming up with some amazing pieces of temporary art, including Cronin’s pink Pop Art bunnies, Martin’s pink lotus flower and Lornell and his three girls’ joint effort of a more abstract piece.

“This is amazing, and I’m so pleased with the turnout!” said Town supervisor Susan Zimet. “It’s yet another great thing that puts New Paltz on the map — and how great is it to have our town put on the map for something so creative and artistic and unique. I’m thrilled to see so many people here enjoying art and community and supporting our local businesses.”

“It was important to include our local artists, because they bring in their friends and family and fans, and it’s what makes it a great community event. And then it gets heightened by inviting in professional chalk artists,” said Fall.

Sadly, the chalk can’t last forever, but there will be plenty of images floating around Facebook and the Water Street Market website, as well as personal shots taken by the thousands of chalk-art enthusiasts this past weekend.