Artists put finishing touches on their works at I Madonnari

Artist Jessea Gay Marie created a 12-foot by 16-foot chalk work of a Chumash cave with art on the walls
Artist Jessea Gay Marie created a 12-foot by 16-foot chalk work of a Chumash cave with art on the walls

A misty morning turned to a sunny afternoon as thousands celebrated the final day of Santa Barbara’s 28th annual I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival at the Mission on Sunday.

With the smell of barbecued chicken wafting through the stalls of the Mission’s front lawn, visitors wandered around the margins of the hundreds of chalk artwork covering the 30,000-square-foot asphalt space below the bell towers.

Colorful drawings recreated old masters and family photos. Others were original works drawn large.

I Madonnari Street Painting Festival featured artist Jessea Gay Marie's work in front of the steps at the Santa Barbara Mission
I Madonnari Street Painting Festival featured artist Jessea Gay Marie’s work in front of the steps at the Santa Barbara Mission
Summer Solstice recreated this year’s festival poster, and kids had their own section where they created their own imaginative works.

Featured artist Jessea Gay Marie put the finishing touches on her 12-foot by 16-foot work of a Chumash cave with art on the walls, overlooking the Channel Islands at the steps of the Mission 10 minutes before the festival’s official closing ceremony at noon.

Ms. Gay Marie guessed that the piece took her 30 hours to complete.

“The highlight of my day was when a man came in and said he was very moved by it,” she said. “He said it was his favorite of all time. Nobody’s ever told me something like that before.

“That made my week.”

Ms. Gay Marie had battled the elements earlier in the week, when she had to hurriedly cover her work with plastic as thunder and rain moved in. The work survived, but condensation on the plastic left a water stain around the edges. However, and to her advantage, the stains made her cave walls look extra realistic.

“Quite a few people have asked how I achieved the effect,” she said. “I tell them professional artists don’t give away their secrets.”

Ms. Gay Marie’s work marks her last I Madonnari and the end of her time in Santa Barbara. She will soon move to Belize, having retired this month from her job as a graduate adviser at UCSB.

Another guest artist at the Fest had come from Santa Barbara’s sister city, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Pablo Torrez Guzman, 27, started working in chalk three years ago, but his portfolio goes back to his childhood with pen, ink, pencil, paint, watercolor and more. He said he likes a challenge, and chalk is one of the harder mediums to master.

He recreated Caravaggio’s “The Incredulity of St. Thomas,” with its dark browns and umbers.

“It’s very difficult for me,” he said. “The sun, the position of my body, the hours and hours in the same position.”

Mr. Guzman plans to stay a little longer after the festival and actually enjoy Santa Barbara, but since Saturday, he hadn’t really looked up from the pavement.

Adam Peot created the deep pink and purple lotus leaves of a large Ganesh, the Hindu god, the “remover of obstacles” and patron of the arts and “a general good guy.”

Usually he works in watercolors, he said, but he enjoyed the challenge of working with chalk.

“The mist washed things out a little bit this morning, but there was a happy ending,” he said. “The hardest thing about chalk is that detail work is very hard. However, I have seen some here with amazing detail, so it’s obviously it’s my issue.

“It’s big-kid primal, getting back to your roots, sitting on the ground drawing.”

At the short noontime ceremony, Santa Barbara County School Superintendent Bill Cirone said that I Madonnari and its fundraising money has “kept art in the schools flourishing for the past three decades,” and he thanked its creator and organizer, Kathy Koury.

In parting, Father Richard McManus told the crowd that he will get to savor all the art for many days after the final day.

“When all of you go home and I get to look out my bedroom window at the beauty of the whole mosaic here, it is just fantastic,” he said.

All of the spaces were sponsored by either businesses or individuals, their names stenciled above each square. Those sponsorships as well as the money earned from food, drink and merchandise sales, all added up to a large fund-raising total for the Children’s Creative Project.

Last year they raised a total between $65,000 and $70,000, and this year looked just as busy and popular. The nonprofit brings arts back to the schools in a time of budget cuts and belt-tightening.

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