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Continued: Chalk is the new (old) medium for self-expression

  • Article by: KIM ODE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: October 17, 2013 - 10:14 AM

Max Holmgren is the artist behind Bear Fox Chalk in Minneapolis. He’s chalked artistic signage for the Macy’s flower show, for weddings, for Land ’O Lakes, for coffeehouses and various events. Chalk art wasn’t something he’d seen as especially viable “until people started freaking out about it,” he said, laughing.

He’d done some signs for his wife’s wedding photography booth at a bridal fair last year. “When people started asking as much about the chalk stuff as her photography, that got our wheels turning a bit,” Holm­gren said.

Some installations are destined for erasure, such as the art Holmberg does every couple of weeks at the Urban Bean coffee shop at 2401 Lyndale Av. S. He tries to document as many drawings as possible, and even has some time-lapse videos of his process at

Other works are more permanent, drawn with a special chalk pencil made in China that resists erasure.

As to chalk’s renaissance, he’s as surprised as anyone. “I mean, Pinterest and social media certainly have made chalk art more visible. I do think chalk is kind of classic, like blue jeans. There’s a nostalgic, romantic feel about it.”

What are you waiting for?

A couple of years ago, Candy Chang, an artist and community activist in New Orleans, was mourning the death of a loved one. She decided to paint the side of an abandoned house with chalkboard paint, then stenciled: “Before I die I want to … .” A bucket of chalk encouraged people to share their aspirations.

On her website at, Chang wrote: “People’s responses made me laugh out loud and they made me tear up. They consoled me during my toughest times. I understood my neighbors in new and enlightening ways, and the wall reminded me that I’m not alone as I try to make sense of my life.”

She created a “toolkit” so others could create walls. Today, more than 350 “Before I Die” walls are in more than 50 countries, and a book about the project is due this fall.

Several walls have been created in the Twin Cities, the first last year in the Whittier neighborhood, although that wall’s prompt now is about neighborliness. In July, a wall in the skyway of the Alliance Bank building was installed to shield some renovation work and attracts a steady stream of desires.

Michelle Nichols saw that wall, loved it and wanted to replicate it when clothier Martin Patrick 3 began remodeling its store at 212 3rd Av. N. in Minneapolis. Nichols, who manages the building for the Cassidy Turley real estate firm, ran the idea by the contractor, Brian Elliot of the Bainey Group in Plymouth.

“Typically, we’ve put up vinyl wallcovering as a construction barricade before the big reveal,” Elliot said. “For the impact that it’s made and how little it cost — some plywood and chalkboard paint and a stencil — this has been a great way to get the community involved, and it’s more interesting than plywood.”

The renovation project now is completed, so Nichols is looking for a new location for the wall.

She said the wall’s message struck a personal chord because of fundraising work she does for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. “You hear all the stories and realize, who wants to wait until something bad happens?” she said.

With a few strokes of chalk, a private aspiration goes public, which prods you to start thinking about how to make it happen.

Chalk it up to fate.


Kim Ode • 612-673-7185

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