BY LENNIE BENNETT
Times Art Critic
When you ride down Main Street in Safety Harbor, you almost expect to see Sheriff Andy strolling out of a coffee shop or Aunt Bee taking Opie to the hardware store or Deputy Barney Fife patrolling the stop signs. Visually, it's a Mayberry kind of place.
And it's the perfect setting for "Bloom N Garden N Chalk Fest" on Saturday and Sunday. For two days, six blocks of Main Street will be closed to traffic while an estimated 100 artists cover the downtown sidewalks with chalk drawings.
It isn't kid stuff.
Chalkers, as they're called, hearken back to a Renaissance tradition in which street painters would decorate public squares with drawings made from clay roof tiles, charcoal and white chalk. They were sometimes rewarded by fascinated passers- by with a bit of bread or a coin.
Ron Hawkins doesn't expect the bread or the coin but he really likes the viewer interaction. He's a water utility manager in Orlando, a painter and, when he can fit it into his schedule, a chalker.
He has been one for 15 years after he saw chalk drawings at another festival and decided he liked the large scale.
He says he has come to accept the temporary nature of the genre.
"For the first few years it kind of upset me that they don't last," he said in a recent phone interview. "Now I see it more as performance art. How art's made is incredibly intriguing to people. We're always answering questions as we work."
A sidewalk chalk festival is different from other outdoor art fests. The art is created on site and it's not for sale.
So how do the artists make money?
"We don't," Hawkins said. "Maybe I'll win some prize money or I'll get lucky and sell one of my prints or paintings that I bring, but it generally costs us money."
And chalkers suffer for their art.
"It's very painful sometimes," Hawkins, 54, said. "Concrete is cold and hard. You learn to take a lot of breaks and head for the ibuprofen."
So . . . ?
"I consider it educational," he said. "And it's fun. I was doing a marina scene on a sidewalk that had a huge crack. I worked with it and by the time I finished, it looked like a big streak of lightning."
The only thing he and his fellow chalkers cannot work with is rain.
"If there's a torrential downpour, there's nothing I can do about it," Hawkins says. "I tried once and got an award for being the most persistent."
Lennie Bennett can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8293.