by Danielle Forsyth
Art lovers flocked to Lewiston's Center Street last weekend amidst scorching hot temperatures and a brief yet substantial downpour on Sunday. More than 170 local and out-of-town artists displayed their various works, covering a broad media of different art forms. This year's event featured a few different elements that made even the seasoned Art Festival veteran enthusiastic.
Walking through the festival this year, the tents were assembled in a way for pedestrians to freely wander from tents to storefronts back to tents, which made for more of a harmonious experience. The storefronts did their part to attract visitors, setting up small booths or tables of their own to entice wandering art fans to take a look in their store. The newest business to hit Center Street -- "Bake It!" -- set a table filled with baking accessories. Visitors were welcomed into DiCamillo Bakery to try their larger-than-life ice cream cookie -- a small relief from the August noonday heat.
Just a short walk away from the tents at Academy Park, the Lewiston Rotary Club hosted its "Art of Ribs" festival. Many visitors at the Art Festival wore their Rib Fest passes around their neck while browsing the tents and, likewise, visitors were carrying their purchased artwork over to enjoy the Rib Fest.
"We are thrilled to support the Rotary's fundraiser and hoping it is really successful," says Irene Rykaszewski, executive director of the Lewiston Council on the Arts. "Although it is only the first year, we hope to be joining up with them again."
Many of the classic traditions were not forgotten at the Art Festival including the judging of the 2010 "Best of Show" and eight other categories. The 2010 Best of Show winner was Jane Stoddard and her watercolor titled "Reflections of Charleston." The winner of the President's Choice Award was Tim Maloney for his photograph titled "Diamond Mine."
Two long-standing traditions for the younger artists were out in full force this year as well. The hip "College Alley" drew large crowds who were interested in what the younger artists had to display. Tents ranged from selling silk screens, to oil paintings, to pottery. One dedicated mother was there on Sunday selling her daughter's pop can earrings at a bright pink tent.
"My daughter couldn't be here today, unfortunately," she said. "She's starting her freshman year at college on Monday, so I'm subbing in."
The other highlight event for the younger generation on Saturday was the annual High School KeyBank Chalk Walk Competition. This year, the Arts Council decided on the theme, "Unity and Diversity," expressed in the graffiti style.
"The graffiti style isn't something that immediately comes to mind in the Lewiston community," says Artistic Director Eva Nicklas. "We wanted something edgy and exciting for the high school students to have a creative outlet."
The Arts Council invited professional graffiti artist Ron "Kezam" Kramer from New York City to be one of the judges. While the students worked, so did he, on-site, as WGRZ and Shea's Performing Arts Center sponsored Kramer to create a large-scale piece for the upcoming musical, "Mary Poppins" in his signature graffiti style.
"I think the main difference with graffiti writers is the primary emphasis is always on the name," Kramer said. Graffiti has shown diversity of its own, he added, and developed its own tradition in its short 40-year history.
"It's developed its own aesthetic standards," he said. Legal graffiti is done with artists spending more time to make more elaborate murals, in contrast to those who do hasty tags and throwups -- the vandalism many people associate with graffiti.
"But I think most people appreciate the more colorful stuff, even if they don't understand it," Kramer said. "I try to avoid this is it art/is it vandalism debate. As long as we're getting permission to do what we want, then it is what it is, just another form of expression for me."
To embrace the graffiti style, this year's Chalk Walk changed from a rectangular mural to a circular one. Next year's mural may not return to the box, said Chalk Walk chairwoman Fay Northrop. "Maybe we should launch into even another shape," she said.
Grand Island High School (or "Grand Izzle" as they called themselves, kicking the graffiti theme up a notch) took first place with their creation. Lewiston-Porter High School took second and Niagara Falls High School took third. West Seneca West Senior High won the President's Choice Award and St. Mary's High School won the People's Choice.
L-P art teacher Cindy Sanchez said the school hosts a similar mural competition, with winners advancing to the Chalk Walk. Jessy Tamol, Chris Ciurczak and Michael Boss comprised the L-P team this year. Their mural depicted red, white and blue hands with stars falling from them like seeds, the Statue of Liberty, and the falls. Tamol said the team was praised by festivalgoers for their inclusion of the Statue of Liberty, not seen in the other murals, which Tamol called "an inner victory."
While most artists work in solitude, Chalk Walk artists work as a team before thousands of Art Festival patrons.
"I had my back turned to them most of the time, but every time I looked up there were at least five people admiring," Boss said of the crowd. "Everybody was saying what a great job we're doing and how cool it looks. It's kind of motivating."
"I really liked working with a team because you get a lot of different people's inputs," Tamol said. "Something in the piece may inspire someone else to have different thoughts about it, and it really gets different and diverse input from everyone."
Ciurczak said working on the asphalt road was "pretty challenging because the ground is more rough surface." The surface temperature of the media was intense as well in Saturday's baking heat. "I'm definitely going to wake up in the morning with a sunburn on my back. Other than that, it was fun."
GIHS art teacher Megan Gaiek said it has been at least three years since the Vikings won the event, which features three-student teams drawing murals in chalk on the Center Street asphalt.
"It feels great," Gaiek said of the win. "These guys practiced during the summertime six or seven times in the back parking lot. We always did it in the morning, though, from 8 and 11, so it wasn't hot. They got here today, it was so hot at noon when they started. They turned and looked at me and said, ‘Oh, my God, my hands are on fire.' "
Beyond advising her team to stay hydrated and keep the hands moist, there wasn't a lot Gaiek could do.
"I'm just happy for them because they worked really hard," she said.
"Today was horrible," said Sean Burke, Class of 2010, who made up the winning trio with Jason Chadwick and Alissa Bailey. "My feet will probably hurt tomorrow."
Burke, who will attend Buffalo State for education in the fall, said the mural design was a group effort. "Every practice, we added something new," he said.
Burke and Chadwick took turns lettering the name in graffiti style. The students visited the Facebook page of Kramer, guest artist at the festival and a Chalk Walk judge, to get a feel for the graffiti style.
Bailey, making her second appearance in the lineup for GI at the Chalk Walk, said the mural was based on a quote: "We have become not a melting pot, but a beautiful mosaic."
"It's been a while since we've won, but before that, Grand Island was a big team in Chalk Walk, so it's nice to bring that back," Bailey said.
This year's festival had something for everyone -- world-class art and artists, friendly competitions, and even some tasty treats. Next year's show will be the weekend of Aug. 13-14.
Larry Austin contributed to this report.