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Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Summertime glory, PART 7: The game of my childhood


I stumbled across an article about a subject on that instantly reminded me of my childhood , and the endless days of summer - being outdoors, yet on a pavement, with the chalks in our hands (snatched from a local school - guilty as charger!). We amused ourselves for countless hours! 

♥♥ The origins of pavement art ♥♥

Artists often speculate on how street art started; some say it was born out of a folk tradition dating back to the Madonnari’s (street painters) of Italy over 500 years ago. This is a romantic notion that has little bases in fact; it’s a very attractive idea for modern day pavement artists to align themselves with the Italian Renaissance, the high water mark of ‘traditional ’painting and artistry; to feel a connection to Da Vinci or Michelangelo almost as if it were an unbroken thread across time.

But history tells a different story; it could also be a myth to believe that pavement art has been poorly documented; since I’ve been exploring the history of this art form, I’ve found lots of information that has lay dormant or been forgotten about simply because nobody has had the inclination to put this stuff together into an intelligent enough form to tell a story. It’s also true that what people don’t know, they make up. Speculating on the origins of pavement art is like trying to find the origins of cave painting.

Boy drawing on a sidewalk. Photo by Helen Levitt, 1937

While teaching some classes in art to children in 1937, Levitt became intrigued with the transitory chalk drawings that were part of the New York children’s street culture of the time. She purchased a Leica camera and began to photograph these works, as well as the children who made them.

On the child chalkers of New York James Agee wrote in 1939:   

”All over the city on streets and walks and walls the children ... have established ancient, essential and ephemeral forms of art, have set forth in chalk and crayon the names and images of their pride, love, preying, scorn, desire ...The Lady in this House is Nuts... Lois I have gone up the street. Don’t forget to bring your skates... Ruby loves Max but Max hates Ruby... And drawings, all over, of  ships, homes, western heroes  and monsters ... which each strong shower effaces.”

Photo by Arthur Leipzigs: Chalk Games, New York 1950 

These chalk drawings and games became a part of the New York child culture for well over 30 years and this photo ‘Chalk one up’ taken by Arthur Leipzigs in 1950 shows that perfectly. Chalk Games captures several children in their element in Prospect Place Brooklyn, New York. To the modern sophisticated mind this may not appear as ‘art’ but that’s exactly what it is. The children have decided ‘this is our space, and we are taking ownership on it’ naïve drawings compete side by side with ‘made up’ street games. 

 Children chalking a war scene: England 1941 by DH Calcaft

At the same time; this photo appeared in Daily Herald newspaper on the 14th November, 1941. It shows a group of children drawing a wartime chalk scene on a street pavement in England. 

You give children some chalk and they start creating stuff on the sidewalk. The striking thing here is that they do it as a community wherever they are; they create art and games together, a shared experience in a public place. These are the true origins of pavement art, they happen independently; across the world and from different cultures. The adult version of this we call ‘art’ but really it’s just ‘grown-ups’ playing on the streets and creating new forms of ‘Shared experiences’ in a public place.

 Peanuts street game: London 1938 Photo by William Vanderson

On the 6th December 1938 Children were photographed in King’s Cross Street London, pushing peanuts along the pavement with their noses in a race to cross the finishing line. 

 1950 Children playing games in the street, England.

The above photo by Haywood Magee appeared in THE PICTURE POST, UK on 8th April 1950 the caption underneath reads:  “Children playing games in the street.” 

6th April 1958, Liverpool, England. Photo by Keystone

So, we were not the inventors of anything new on those long summer days of my childhood, we just kept the Flame of Art going on.

Have you did any pavement art as a kid?

♥ Pinky Honey


  1. What a sweet wave of nostalgia that this post bring rushing back. I remember when receiving a new pack of chalk was a wonderful gift that meant hours upon hours stretched out on the pavement creating temporary childhood masterpieces. I'm not that old (29), but I love that my youth was filled with these kinds of memories, much more so than modern things like video games and cell phones. If I ever have kids, you better believe we'll all be out there colouring with chalk on the sidewalk - the way that childhood summer days were meant to be spent (outdoors!!!).

    Big hugs,
    ♥ Jessica

    1. Jessica,
      The nostalgic feel is mutual.
      When I first came across the article, it instantly took me back to my days of chalk-art on the pavement in front of any house in the neighborhood that had kids in it.
      I remember (I'm 27, that makes me pre-mobile kid) we used to leave messages on the pavement in front of our friend's house, like "Meet me at usual place tomorrow at 3" :D

      Glory days!
      Have a great day, dear!