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Artist Mario Alfaro of Martinez fills in the background of his sidewalk chalk mural of three parrots at the Italian Street Painting Festival in downtown Martinez, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011. Alfaro said he chose to include parrots in his mural because the reminded him of his home country of El Salvador. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Staff Archives)

MARTINEZ -- Once again, downtown Martinez will be the venue to relish various Italian-inspired pastimes this weekend.

The ninth annual Italian Street Painting Festival offers an opportunity for watching artwork come alive, sampling Italian wines paired with Tuscan fare, and listening to lyrics from the silly to the sentimental.

The festival will bring family members together as co-creators. Chalk artist Ron Guzman is returning with his granddaughter, Martinez resident Savannah Wadsworth, 19, to compose a chalk painting on an 8-foot by 8-foot square of concrete.

They will map out their design prior to the event, going over techniques to achieve the requisite dimensionality through the incorporation of shadows and light.

The art form dates back to 16th century Italy, when such artists were known as madonnari, and experienced a renaissance with the debut International Street Painting Competition there in 1972.

While the medium is centuries old, Guzman will once again utilize modern technology to help guide the palette for his impermanent masterpiece, pulling up images of World War II veterans on his iPhone during breaks from crouching down on Main Street.

Guzman, who once drew the holiday-themed pictures from his elementary schoolteachers in Pittsburg to pass out to other students, has since worked with wood, ink and pastels, before recently adding chalk to his repertoire.

For the PG&E electric estimator, art is an avocation, done for pure pleasure rather than a livelihood.


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"There are a lot of starving artists and I don't want to be one of them," he says.

Still, Wadsworth credits him for her own current vocational pursuits.

"I'm in design school because he taught me how to draw," says the student at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco.

Guzman's other grandchildren, ages 5 to 9, will be there to lend a hand, coloring different spots on the concrete canvas.

Meanwhile, accordion player Tom Torriglia will add to the festival's spirit of whimsy, strolling along Main Street belting out classic Italian favorites, the likes of "O Sole Mio" on Sunday afternoon, before his six-piece band, Bella Ciao performs at 4 p.m. that day.

Torriglia admits he is "barely able to draw a stick figure," but notes that Bella Ciao prides itself on performing more obscure Italian-American works of the 1950s and '60s, along with some of Torriglia's estimated 20 original songs of the genre, with themes centering mainly on "food and women."

There are lighthearted lyrics devoted to cannelloni, pasta, minestrone and sausage, and its bassist wrote a score "wish(ing) she was Italian and lamenting that the stork dropped her at the wrong house," he adds.

For Torriglia -- a San Francisco native with northern Italian roots and dual citizenship -- the festival offers another ripe chance to tout his heritage.

"Anytime I can share (this) with others is an incredible opportunity," he says. "It's part of celebrating culturally through music and art."

The Italian Street Painting Festival features live music, Italian fare, arts and crafts and bocce. Residents can try their hand at chalk art with a $10 donation.

If you go
What: Ninth annual Italian Street Painting Festival
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.,
Sept. 22-23
Where: Main Street, downtown Martinez
Admission: Free
Information: 925-228-3577, or visit www.mainstreetmartinez.org.