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Artist Draws Chalk Mural To Promote Conn. Science Center

JULIE STAGIS

July 11, 2009

HARTFORD - Robert Guillemin is on a mission.

He wants to bring out the best in the American people, one sidewalk mural at a time.

Guillemin, better known as "Sidewalk Sam," did a chalk mural in State House Square Friday to promote the Connecticut Science Center.

"My trust and reliance on the goodness of the people I meet causes a symphony of spirit to come together and make something beautiful," said Guillemin, who is prone to gush about the beauty in American society that most people have a hard time finding.

Guillemin, a 70-year-old with a striking resemblance to Santa Claus, has a master's degree in painting from Boston University. He was once a copyist at the Louvre and started his career the "regular" way, with exhibits in galleries and museums.

"I noticed a flaw: You're only speaking to a few people who have the money and time to study art," he said. "Meanwhile, out in the streets are tens of thousands who don't have the time."

That was it. He decided to bring his art to the "crossroads of America," painting or chalking copies of masterpieces by the likes of Rembrandt, da Vinci or van Gogh on sidewalks.

Fifteen years ago, it could have ended. Guillemin, who lives in Boston, fell off a roof and broke his back. He became a paraplegic and had to use a wheelchair.

But, as is his character, he set out to do his sidewalk work bigger and better than before.

"I thought, I should have other people do artwork with me," he said.

Guillemin's first project after that involved shutting down a mile-long strip of a Boston highway on Earth Day and creating a beautiful green meadow filled with butterflies, bees, rabbits and flowers with people from all over the city.

Since then, he's a self-described "Johnny Appleseed," spreading joy with his work.

"I have a sense that society is more gorgeous than we give it credit for, and people will spill beauty out at the slightest provocation," he said.

On Friday, Guillemin continually praised the young volunteers working on the 30-foot-by-40-foot mural.

"You guys are doing this in such good spirit. I'm so impressed," he said, before telling Alexsandra Velez, 11, whom he called "Lala," she'd be president one day.

"I think [what Sidewalk does] is great. He really wants to make sure it's about the community and not just the art," said Leah Medin, 18, from Newton, Mass., who works with Guillemin.

Sidewalk Sam will be in Blue Back Square in West Hartford outside Barnes& Noble today from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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