Monday, July 12, 2021

2021 Chalk Art Festival & Tour de Perry:
‘Stranger than Fiction’: Skydiving beaver and plague doctor top this year’s Perry Chalk Art Festival

PERRY — Take some chalk. Then find a square of pavement and create art, with an emphasis on strange. For Tee Jay Dill of Rochester, that meant creating a pastel-colored image of a skydiving beaver, brimming with wide-eyed cuteness. It wasn’t the kind of image she usually designs in her job as a tattoo artist, but then again, it was based on a true story. Her creation wowed the crowds and won a first place award during Saturday’s 15th annual Perry Chalk Art Festival.
Besides marking a milestone, the event was among the region’s first significant gatherings since the COVID-19 pandemic subsided locally.

“My summary word would be ‘fantastic,’” said coordinator Megan Hauser as crowds surveyed the artwork. “The bike ride this morning was sold out. We had 250 bikers, and that was as many as it allowed for, so it was super ... It’s a flurry of activity and it’s fantastic seeing the youth the artwork is a cut above, I think, this year. And out on the plaza it’s amazing.”

The Perry Chalk Art Festival combines fine art — chalked on the pavement — with food, music, the Perry Farmers’ Market, and the Tour de Perry bike race. This year’s event featured 27 youth and 27 adult artists, working on the theme of “Stranger than Fiction.” UFOs, emus, deep sea fish and astronauts among the subject matter. Dill, like the other artists, had been working on her piece since 8:30 a.m. when she chatted in the early afternoon.

“Yeah, legit,” she said of her piece. “In 1948 they dropped skydiving beavers into the Idaho wilderness to repopulate the area with beavers. I think they had gotten over-hunted ... They wanted to repopulate the area and there’s no roads up there, so they did an experimental program where they airdropped beavers. There’s Youtube video and we were watching it last night.” She had heard of the project several years ago, and her mind kept returning to the idea, given this year’s theme.

“I thought I would draw one cuter,” Dill said. “The one than I had done previously was drawn more of an angry military beaver. He had a big cigar, like a paratrooper. When you think paratrooper, you think gruff guy with a cigar.” Why did she decide to go with the cuter image? “Because it seems it’s a lot of kids and stuff here, and I figured it would just be cuter,” she said laughing.

A few feet away, Julia Williamson of Cheektowaga worked on her own creation — a comic book-style image of a 14th century Black Plague doctor, wearing the beaked mask and goggles they thought offered protection from the disease. The figure was surrounded by green-colored vapors.

“Obviously with the past two years that have been kind of a disaster, this is a plague doctor and it’s what doctors actually would wear in the Black Plague,” she said. “They would have incense and other herbs (in the beak) because the smell was so terrible they didn’t have to smell it. They were covered from head to toe, so I thought it was appropriate this year — and it looks very much stranger than fiction.” The image garnered a lot of attention from visitors, asking what it was.

Like most of the other artists, Williamson made a sketch beforehand and based her chalk art off it. “I’ve been doing this about seven years and I started at 8:30 this morning,” she said. “Usually I have a sketch I make ahead of time and I go off the sketch. I’m not really good at being spontaneous, so I think planning ahead helps.” What’s the best part of the festival? “Honestly, just seeing the people out-and-about,” she said. “It’s been a long time.”

Youth artists worked up and down Main Street in the meantime, including 11-year-old Gio Muolo of Perry, who was participating for her first year. She likes to draw and had chalked an image of a deep sea fish in an ocean scene.

“My sisters always did it when I was younger and I’ve always wanted to,” she said. “I think I was at the age of going last year, but we couldn’t do it because of COVID. Also, I think the ocean is really strange — like we know more about the entire universe than we do oceans, and there’s so many different layers and animals we don’t know about.”

She said she created her image spontaneously.
“I just like seeing a bunch of other people’s drawings and what they came up with,” she said.

Muolo worked near teens Zsa Zsa Fisher of Buffalo, Diego Camacho of Gowanda, and Courtney Rhodes of Livonia. Each brought their own perspective to their creations, including a Salvador Dali-esque image, a dragon and an octopus, respectively. Fisher accepted compliments from the crowd, while Rhodes, 17, said she was also participating for the first year. She finds it relaxing.

“I really like chalk drawing,” she said. “I tried it over quarantine and realized I was really good at it, so I decided to do it this year ... I found it weird that octopi have three hearts and this year is ‘Stranger than Fiction,’ so I wanted to incorporate that theme.”

The artwork continued throughout the afternoon — prime pieces set to last until the next rains occur.
“We usually come here every year,” Camacho said. “It’s fun to try something new.”

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