Hoopers Island set to host first Chalk Art Festival

By Debra R. Messick, Special to Dorchester Banner
Posted 11/2/22

It takes imagination to create art.

It took imagination plus inspiration to bring the first ever Chalk Art Festival to Hoopers Island this Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 5 and 6, 11 a.m. to 4 …

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Hoopers Island set to host first Chalk Art Festival


It takes imagination to create art.

It took imagination plus inspiration to bring the first ever Chalk Art Festival to Hoopers Island this Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 5 and 6, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The free groundbreaking event, a partnership between the Dorchester Center for the Arts and Island realtor-entrepreneur Kelli Ellis-Neal, will feature six chalk artists, local musicians, art and other vendors, food providers, and hands-on chalk art and cartooning workshops.

Located inside the metal boat barn adorned with an eye-popping mural on Baseball Road, just off of Hoopers Island Road, the festival will be set to go, rain or shine, according to Melissa Cooperman, DCA community art coordinator.

Since local artist Ed Krell painted the Bungalow Wings mural, an homage of local and inspirational imagery, at the urging of property owner Ellis-Neal a little over a year ago, it's become a local landmark, lit up at night by popular request.

The structure is also Krell's eclectic art studio, a rustic storehouse stocked with trays of chalk, wood, preservative sealant, and occasionally a stray critter or two finding their way inside.

All his life, the right-handed Krell had preferred to draw in black and white. But seven years ago, a brutal attack severely damaged the nerves of his right arm, forcing painful surgeries.

His artistic life severed, he struggled with inner demons that threatened to destroy him. Yet, he and partner Paul Ellwood opened their home to a friend waging an even bigger battle against schizophrenia, one he didn't survive.

But the wisdom and courage his late friend shared ended up saving Krell's own life, driving him to create any way he could, learning to grasp a large piece of chalk in his left hand, and draw wherever he could, using whatever canvas he had, even a wall or a floor.

In gratitude for managing to bridge that troubled time, Krell found renewed purpose behind his art, evident especially in the striking pieces subtitled “The Story of 81,” interpretive portraits of the Narrows Ferry Bridge created in tribute to that fallen friend, and the desire to help bring healing to those struggling and their loved ones left behind.

Ask Krell about the Chalk Art Festival, and he'll modestly admit to "planting a seed" helping make it happen.

"We're running off our mantra, inspired by 81, which we call the next positive thing you can do to change your mindset," Krell said.

His journey also brought him in touch with an online artist collective community known as The Chalk Mafia, founded by self-described "chalk sister" Lori Antoinette.

Antoinette, who will be leading chalk art workshops both days, is among several others participating at the festival, including Abigail Bowers, Baltimore Murals artist Mike Kirby (with teenaged children Daniela and Rafael), Collin Cessna, and Greg Mclemore.

Raised within an Army-based family once stationed at nearby Andrews Air Force Base, Antoinette has put down roots on the far outskirts of Los Angeles, but is excited to return to this area.

She began interactively drawing with her mother at age 3 and earned a degree in abstract art from the University of Maryland. In the early 1990s, an artist pal invited her to a chalk art event in Pasadena, California. Unfamiliar with what she'd find there, the event proved to be life changing; she fell in love with the medium and "never looked back."

Antoinette describes the dynamic of creating and viewing chalk art as being similar to a musician's concert experience.

"You can listen to an album, which is fixed and permanent, but the performance has its own kind of magic," she noted.

She helped found the artists cooperative but credits its catchy name to her longtime late friend, Jaque Keith DuBois, memorialized on the group's website as The Chalkfather.

DuBois, who suffered from cerebral palsy, was a neighbor who became a devoted fan of her chalk drawings. Finally, she invited him to pick up some chalk and create along with her, and a close friendship was born, with DuBois becoming her assistant.

Trying to brainstorm names for their artists’ group, he blurted out “Chalk Mafia.” The two got matching tattoos with the moniker to seal the deal. (DuBois later added the word namaste, to clarify that their mafia uses chalk only to kill ignorance, Antoinette recalled.)

Today, the group's Facebook page has 650 followers from around the world, among them artist Abigail Bowers, originally from Gaithersburg, and currently living in Lexington, Kentucky, where she devotes time to 7-year-old son Bennett and creating via Chalked Out Art.

Drawing ever since elementary school, Bowers received an art scholarship to Ithaca College in New York. Unlike traditional painting, she much prefers the creative freedom chalk provides, the ability to create color hues through smudging, and to really make colors pop, she said.

Currently working on a children's picture book featuring a grandparent, grandchild and dog named Bully, Bowers especially treasures the times she shares creating chalk art with Bennett.

"He has his own bag of chalk, and enjoys working alongside me," she noted.

Another set of workshops will be led by self-taught cartoonist Lee Reece, who, like Antoinette, also grew up in a well-traveled family, via his father's ministry service.

Reece, who fell in love with cartooning as a teenager in the 1990s, created and published his first comic book with a friend while living in Ohio.

While living in Cambridge, at age 16, he met his future wife, who comes from a fishing family on Hoopers Island, where the couple and their son put down roots of their own last year, drawn by the caring, close-knit community and safe environment.

Focused primarily on "work and adulting," Reece channeled his creative energies into graphic design, specifically a car wrap and painting business. On the Island, he helped manage Phillips Seafood.

But when Covid hit, leaving the business unable to open due to a shortage of visiting picker visas, Reece had time to rediscover his passion for cartooning. He picked up a book he'd begun working on long before and decided to give it another shot.

Now working more flexible hours at his own home remodeling business, Reece has sold several commissioned comic books and is steadily working on his own project, a story about supernatural detective Delirium Tremens, embarking on his final case before retiring.

Reece is looking forward to giving workshop participants a basic framework to explore the medium. He's also excited about leading a possible cartooning course at DCA.

For more information, visit dorchesterarts.org/hoopers-island-first-chalk-arts-festival/ or call 410-228-7782.

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