Portraits, still lifes, a brightly hued compass rose, a Halloween goblin, and animals were among the drawings. Some were original works and others artful copies of famous images like the reproduction of surrealist Rene Magritte’s “The Treachery of Images: This Not a Pipe,” a still photo from Disney’s “Mary Poppins,” and the first-prize-winning version of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo’s “Self-Portrait with a Braid.” For a day, the dull asphalt was quilted with vivid color that seemed to draw light and pop out at pedestrians. Fruit on a blue background looked ready to pick, carefully detailed hands seemed to reach out, and a silhouetted bird glowed as iridescently as a grackle’s feathers.
Some of the artists labored tirelessly for six hours or more, bent over their drawings in a mixture of the joy and tedium requisite to create art of true beauty. They drew onlookers who had the rare pleasure of seeing ideas and colors slowly come alive as they watched, amping their admiration and pleasure when viewing the completed work. Many artists used the cracks and other imperfections on the pavement to great advantage. No one there will ever look at this street the same, without delighting in possibilities beyond the practical necessities of travel.
Most observers stood amazed at the effort and time that went into something as ephemeral as a sunset or Buddhist sand painting. After all, it wouldn’t be long before traffic and a rainstorm erased the bright hues and left the road as empty as an old fashioned blackboard wiped clean at the schoolday’s end. But the event also echoed this autumn season of colored leaves which only temporarily inflame the landscape. The pavement picture gallery not only brought the street to life, its subtle, unstated message of beauty and change reflected the best of life’s lessons.
What is most cherished about a place is often the most fleeting. The vibe of a community is not just found in obvious manifestations —architecture, natural setting, or the daily doings of residents and businesses. Sometimes the most lasting and defining markers of place are evanescent moments and events that bring people together. “Different places on the face of the earth,” wrote D.H. Lawrence about the intangible characteristics of localities, “have different vital effluence, different vibration, different chemical exhalation, different polarity with different stars: call it what you like. But the spirit of place is a great reality.”
Such a great spiritual reality is no accident. It takes people who care enough to make things happen. Without the organizers, artists, supporting businesses, and people who turned out to enjoy the art and each other there would have been no chalk walk. Lacking them and those who create like happenings, Collinsville would just be a cluster of handsome historic buildings, not the vibrant place that makes it beloved.