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Hundreds transform Riverhead's Main Street during annual Community Mosaic Street Painting Festival

Volunteer firefighter Elijah Tyre, 22, of Riverhead, draws

Volunteer firefighter Elijah Tyre, 22, of Riverhead, draws a mural on East Main Street in Riverhead for the Jamesport Fire Department during East End Arts' Community Mosaic and Street Painting Festival. (May 26, 2013) Credit: Tara Conry

With her fingers covered in colorful chalk, Rita Nigro, 8, let her imagination run wild Sunday on the pavement of East Main Street in Riverhead.

“That’s a wombat,” she said, pointing to an orange cat holding a bat that she had drawn on the street. “It’s going, ‘Hey batter, batter, batter’ … It doesn’t seem to know it’s the batter!”

A rainbow, a fish and a T-Rex were also included in the mural that Rita and her cousin Nory McDonald, 6, created on the small piece of the road that was designated to them.

The nearly quarter of a mile stretch of East Main Street, between Roanoke Avenue and East Avenue, was shut down for more than seven hours Sunday, so hundreds of kids and adults could transform the roadway into a community mosaic using chalk. Each piece of the picture was as unique as the person crafting it.

Next to Rita and Nory’s whimsical mural, volunteer firefighter Elijah Tyre, 22, of Riverhead, worked for hours on a portrait of a firefighter holding a cross.

“He’s carrying up his own cross and following the example of Jesus Christ,” Tyre explained.

Inspired by a similar event in Santa Barbara, Calif., East End Arts, a nonprofit arts council in Riverhead, has been holding the annual street painting festival for the past 17 years. The program raises funds for scholarships for students attending the East End Arts School through sponsorships and by selling designated “boxes” in the street. Individuals, businesses and community groups purchase these spots and then either color them in themselves or tap local artists to transform the spaces into something beautiful.

Rod Tryon used Bridgehampton National Bank’s box to draw a 3-D image of a parrot flying out of the street. During the past 25 years, Tryon, 58, of Cutchogue, has created street art in places around the world including Hong Kong, France and Dubai, but he rarely misses the East End Arts festival.

“I love to watch the kids,” he said. “It’s so much fun to see what they come up with.”

Amateur artist Fred Baumbach, 55, of Center Moriches, wasn’t intimidated by the fact that he was working right next to Tryon as he crafted an image of a stream flowing through a forest that he hoped would be three-dimensional when he was done. A lab technician by day, Baumbach started drawing and painting only when he was in his 40s, and this was one of his first chalk projects. He started working on it at 11 a.m. and expected it would take him most of the day to finish.

“An artist never knows when they’re done,” he said. “I’m just here to have fun.”

The range of ages and experience levels is what Patricia Snyder, executive director of East End Arts, loves most about this event.

“We’ll have someone like Rod Tryon, who goes around the world doing artwork, next to a little kid doing a smiley face, and everyone’s enjoying themselves and it’s all for the arts,” she said.

Depending on the weather, Snyder said, the mosaic could last up to three weeks.

It’s this ephemeral quality, though, that Tryon likes most about this type of art, adding, “It’s here today and gone tomorrow.”

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