At Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, street painters bring art to life

Abby Cramer doesn’t mind the curious stares and inquisitive questions that interrupt the creation of her artwork.

And that’s a good thing, because they come often as the art teacher toils away outside on Hiester Street between College and Beaver avenues.

Cramer is again taking part in the Downtown State College Italian Street Painting Festival, a staple of the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts since it joined in 1999.

And Cramer has been there from the beginning, turning chalk into art since then, except in 2005 when she was studying art in — appropriately enough — Italy.

Her tradition continues even now that the State College high school and Penn State graduate has moved to eastern Pennsylvania, where she teaches art in the Pennsbury School District. It’s the ability to create art, and to interact while doing it, that appeals to Cramer.

“This is really the only art I do throughout the year, and I like it,” she said. “When I was doing art in college and high school, a lot of times I didn’t finish things because it’s boring inside the studio, there is no one to talk to. That’s what I like about the Arts Festival — it’s interactive.”

This year, she is re-creating the early 1900s painting “Air Castles” by Maxfield Parrish, one of her favorite artists. “I love his blues and skies and the clouds that he does,” she said.

As that sky came to life on the pavement of Hiester Street, a steady stream of Arts Fest attendees stopped by to marvel.

“I had someone walk by earlier who said ‘this is my favorite part of Arts Festival,’ ” Cramer said. “They love coming back every day and seeing how far we get.”

If Cramer is a veteran of the street painting fest, Erin Becker is the rookie.

A postdoctoral biology student who studied deep-sea hydrothermal venting, Becker has no experience in street painting. She simply saw the process one year and wanted to give it a shot. She volunteered during the festival one year, and then was promoted to chalk her own patch of road.

“I wanted to do it for the experience of talking to people, the other artists and people walking around,” said Becker, who chose a close-up portait of a dog. “It’s really cool because people identify with the dog. They’ll be like, ‘Oh, that’s Winston,’ because they have a dog just like this dog.”

Cramer, who is chalking one of the larger patches of road, estimates it will take 30 hours to complete the work, about 10 hours each day Thursday through Saturday. The painting will remain there for all to see during the festival, but then will be washed away Monday.

“People always say, ‘Aren’t you upset when it washes away?’ ” she said. “It’s not so much about that. If it was about that, I’d be doing the art and selling it as a finished piece.

“The rest of Arts Festival is about the finished pieces,” she continued. “This is where people get to see art in progress.”