Virginia artist’s Big Head Brigade to invade Greensburg ArtsWalk

Virginia artist Megan Marlatt is taking the Greensburg ArtsWalk literally.

Her Big Head Brigade of wearable sculptures will parade through the city as part of the Saturday festivities.

Presented by Westmoreland Cultural Trust, The Westmoreland Museum of American Art and Seton Hill University, the annual event showcases the local arts scene with visual arts exhibitions, live music, performances, activities and food throughout the downtown area. Hours will be 10 am-4pm

An art professor at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Marlatt got the inspiration for her papier mache big heads from images of big head masks, or “capgrossos,” made by Spanish folk artists Ventura and Hosta.

Capgrossos have traditionally made appearances in European pre-Lenten carnivals, another of Marlatt’s areas of interest.

“I was a painter; I never thought of myself as a sculptor, ”said Marlatt, who began painting images of toys, which progressed into painting portraits of puppet heads.

“Then randomly, a friend who visited Barcelona sent images of capgrossos in festivals in Catalonia,” she said. “I was smitten by them. I was like, ‘Oh wow, those are big puppet heads. You could actually get inside those. ‘ ”

She went to Spain to paint capgrossos and, afterward, started watching videos on how to make them. Her first creations were shown at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, Va.

The center arranged a big head-making workshop with Ventura and Hosta, and Marlatt also took them to UVA to teach her students.

“Then they left and we had a bunch of big heads and I was like, ‘Well, you can’t just take your big head and go home. What are we going to do? I guess we need to perform in them now, ‘”she said. “That’s when I began the Big Head Brigade with my students and other artists who had made them in the workshops.

“We started applying to events and getting accepted. We just invented ourselves as we went. ”

The brigade has performed at events including the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, DC, and the 2015 Prague Quadrennial in the Czech Republic.

The hollow papier mache heads are formed around plaster molds and painted with acrylics, sometimes finished with varnish. Each weighs about 3 pounds. Marlatt sources the special paper, which she describes as a pulp type of cardboard similar to a paper egg carton, from Spain.

“It really takes a good 40-hour week to build one and paint it,” she said.

Marlatt was hooked up with the Greensburg ArtsWalk through her friends and fellow artists, Marc Snyder and Marti Haykin, owners of StopWatch Gallery & Studio in downtown Greensburg.

The heads, worn by students from Westmoreland Performing Arts, will wend their way through the event from 10 am to noon, with stops at The Westmoreland and WCT’s Arts in the Alley and a parade along Pennsylvania Avenue. Among 14 figures will be Queen Elizabeth and two of her corgis, an angel and devil, two dual mouse-frog characters, a rabbit holding a giant carrot and Critics at Large.

Fashioned after real-life magazine critics, the figures “walk around and make notes with big pencils, going around to different art booths and making gestures as if they’re contemplating the worthiness of your art,” Marlatt said. “In their pockets, they usually have little merit badges to give the artists that say things like ‘Good job’ and ‘Keep up the good work.’ ”

After the parade, the heads will rest on pedestals at StopWatch Gallery, joining Marlatt’s paintings in an exhibition titled “Carnival.” Marlatt will be present for a reception from 2 to 4 pm

“You’ll see the big heads in the paintings and the paintings in the big heads,” Marlatt said.

Butterfly art

Also among special ArtsWalk features will be the unveiling of a new installation at WCT’s Art in the Alley, on Wilcox Way next to The Palace Theater. Butterfly artwork made from children’s handprints will be placed on a door next to the existing Wings Across Westmoreland piece.

The hand prints of more than 25 children, from newborn to 18, were made into die-cut butterfly stickers for the piece, with their first names incorporated to look like grass at the bottom of the door.

“ArtsWalk is a family favorite event, and WCT is proud to have involved community members of all ages to participate in the project,” said Trust CEO April Kopas.

The project, partially funded by the Westmoreland County Parks & Recreation Local Arts Grant, was conceived by Malinda Sherid, founder of the Second Chance Fund, an initial funder that helped launch Art in the Alley in 2018. Sherid’s late daughter, Kimberley Cecchini, is the subject of artwork installed in the area.

“Kim had a special way of getting everyone together, and family and friends were a huge part of her life,” Sherid said. “Bringing families together for this project continues the circle of life in the Alley and has touched my heart.”

Arts around town

Other ArtsWalk locations and activities include:

• The Westmoreland Museum, 221 N. Main St. – Free access to galleries, student art and poetry, drop-in mask-making

• Seton Hill Arts Center, West Otterman Street and College Avenue – Senior student art exhibitions, art activities, art-making demonstrations, musical performances

• Art in the Alley, Wilcox Way – Artist demonstrations and activities, face-painting, vendors, food

• McFeely’s Gourmet Chocolates, 100 S. Pennsylvania Ave. – Paint-your-own chocolate bar

• Dv8 Espresso Bar and Gallery, 208 S. Pennsylvania Ave. – Artwork by Daisher Rocket

• 12th Octave Studios, 217 S. Pennsylvania Ave. – Artwork, pour painting activity and open stage

• Greensburg Hempfield Area Library, 237 S. Pennsylvania Ave. – Blackout poetry and activities

• StopWatch Gallery, 323 S. Main St. – Mask-making

• Scott Electric Lighting Gallery, 450 S. Main St. – Coloring contest

• Imperfect Creations, 857 S. Main St. – Basket raffle, 10% discount on purchases

• Petagogy, 240 E. Pittsburgh St. – Make a braided cat or dog toy

• Green Beacon Gallery, 235 W. Pittsburgh St. – Artwork by regional artists.

There is a fee for some activities. Other retailers, restaurants and businesses in downtown Greensburg also will have special offers for ArtsWalk participants.

For more information, including a downloadable ArtsWalk map and schedule, visit greensburgartswalk.com.

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, smcmarlin@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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