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Chalk festival brings art to streets of Two Harbors

Chalk artist Mort McBain creates a Madonna and Child drawing for the Two Harbors "Chalk.o.Lot" event Saturday. (Tammy Francois / Lake County News-Chronicle)1 / 4
Wausau, Wis., chalk artist Erin Blicharz drew Thumper, a character from Disney's "Bambi," for Saturday's chalk art festival in Two Harbors. She has participated in similar events in Wausau for seven years. (Tammy Francois / Lake County News-Chronicle)2 / 4
Meng Vang, 24, of Wausau, Wis., brightens up Two Harbors for Saturday's "Chalk.o.Lot" event. Participants bought a box of chalk and section of sidewalk for the festival. Photo by Val Doherty3 / 4
Chalk artist Mort McBain created this Madonna and Child drawing for the Two Harbors "Chalk.o.Lot" event Saturday. (Photo by Val Doherty)4 / 4

Chalk art won out over wolves for the Wright family from Minneapolis.

Bruce Wright and Janet Parker are enjoying a long-weekend camping trip at Gooseberry Falls State Park with their children Adam, 16, and Liah, 11. Their plan had been to spend Saturday at the International Wolf Center near Ely. But vacations should be spontaneous, Parker said, and the wolves started to lose out on Friday, when the family paid a visit to the 3M Dwan Museum (aka the Sandpaper Museum) in Two Harbors.

Kitty-corner from the museum, they noticed Waterfront Drive was blocked off and some activity was taking place. They decided to check it out.

What they discovered was "Chalk.o.Lot," Two Harbors' first sidewalk chalk festival, which took place Friday and Saturday in Thomas Owens Park. The event was the brainchild of the City of Two Harbors Arts and Beautification Committee, which was formed a few years ago, said Michelle Ronning, co-chairman of the committee and organizer of the festival. It was inspired by a similar event in her hometown of Wausau, Wis., which just had its ninth annual sidewalk chalk festival this summer.

"They've been watching their city grow and bringing in thousands of visitors and hundreds of artists," Ronning explained.

The originator of that event was Mort McBain, now retired as Marathon County administrator, whose sidewalk art career started in the 1960s when he was bumming around Europe. The Two Harbors group hired McBain to help get their festival started, and he brought a few fellow Wausau chalk artists with him for the weekend.

McBain led two chalk art clinics on Friday, and he and his comrades started their artwork, each taking a square of the sidewalk. That's what the Wright family saw going on when their Saturday plans changed. Liah thought creating sidewalk art would be way cooler than watching wolves.

"She will decide she wants to do something, and then everybody gets behind it," her dad said.

By the time the Wrights arrived on Saturday, a lot of art already was happening. About 20 people registered, Ronning said. For $15, each was entitled to a T-shirt, a box of 48 pastel chalks and other equipment, as well as 5 feet by 10 feet of sidewalk adjacent to Waterfront Drive. The Wausau invitees also were using those spaces.

But those weren't the only participants. A popular attraction was a block of the street available for free-form chalk art similar to what you might do on your sidewalk at home, only with more room. It included the opportunity for children and adults to have chalk lines drawn around their bodies, so that by noon on Saturday it looks as though a grisly crime had occurred in Two Harbors.

On the sidewalk, several of the artists were working from prints. McBain was creating a Madonna and Child based on a Raphael artwork. He always does a Madonna and Child, the artist said, because sidewalk art originated during the Renaissance in Italy with artists creating Madonnas outside of cathedrals. McBain creates a grid on the sidewalk, sketches in his art and then fills in the details, one square of the grid at a time. That's what he recommended to others in his clinics.

Michelle Ronning, her husband Larry Ronning, and McBain's granddaughter Shelby Prahl, 8, were re-creating a Picasso; and Mike Tomber of Thomas Lake was working on R Crumb's "Keep on Truckin'."

Others were trying original art. Someone had depicted the Two Harbors lighthouse. Meng Vang, 24, of Wausau created the face of a woman with stunning eyes and multicolored hair that seemed to be one of the most photographed works.

Justin and Anna Abbott arrived at the event from Duluth around noon with their children Grace, 6½, and Leah, 3.

Anna Abbott said they came because it was a beautiful day for a family activity outdoors, and she loves the pastel chalk colors. They were going to divide their sidewalk section into four parts with no great works of art in mind. Anna said she'd doodle; Justin said he'd create a chalk fish; Grace said she'd make a heart with a butterfly flying over it, followed by a family of butterflies; and Leah planned a rainbow.

It was a picture-perfect day on Saturday, but someday the inevitable will occur. It will rain.

"You have to get used to it washing away," said Miranda Orlikowski, 19, of Wausau, who was depicting the singer Marina and the Diamonds. "The other stuff you can keep."

The Wrights picked a unique source for their chalk art. They took a picture of the flowers in a planter in a corner of the park. Liah was working with purple chalk while Adam filled in with a heavy brown. Both said the thought of the finished work washing away didn't bother them.

"We'll take lots of pictures," their mom said.