Talk about surreal: A man recreates Octavio Ocampo's "Visions of Quixote" in chalk on a 14-foot by 10-foot parcel of asphalt -- without pay. It's audacious, heroic even, and after the festival ends, passers-by on Tasso Street will be left with only the vague notion that once, something extraordinary took place here, before the rain and the traffic washed it away.
The valiant knight-errant is Chris Brake, one of 60 street artists who will be performing live at the Palo Alto Festival of the Arts on Aug. 27 and 28. This year's festival features gourmet food vendors, live bands, kids' activities and a kinetic sculpture garden.
All of that is peripheral, of course, to the more than 300 artists traveling from around the country to showcase and sell their work.
"As cliche as it sounds, there's truly something for everybody," Claudette Mannina said. She handles marketing for MLA Productions, which has run the festival for many years. "We put a lot of care into ensuring there's a really strong variety."
That includes a strong variety of artists whose works would make bold, tasteful additions to any home. For those looking for potentially functional pieces to spice up their living quarters, here are a few artists to watch out for.
Jenny Stepp Roseville artist Jenny Stepp calls her small, square table a "statement piece." It represents the fusion of her two principal media -- steel and glass -- and traverses other boundaries as well.
"Every bit of this was chosen for aesthetic value," she says, but one can't help envisioning it next to the front door under a set of keys. It's undeniably practical. Stepp says she's most intrigued by steel, which she manipulates through heat forming, welding and other means, and she adds glass for the bright color contrast.
Visitors to Stepp's booth at the festival can expect to see the table and a variety of steel-and-glass sculptures and wall hangings inspired by the artist's curiosity and personal life path.
Holly Tornheim The term "woodworking" doesn't really do justice to Holly Tornheim's work. That denotes bed frames, cabinets, the sort of bulky things that constituted her previous work as a carpenter.
First introduced to wood when building a house in the foothills near her home in Nevada City, Calif., Tornheim was drawn to its feel, its life and the opportunity to use local materials. After her daughter was born, though, she no longer wished to frequent construction sites, so she sought other opportunities to create.
She now produces small wood sculptures inspired by water, such as "Wave," in which her medium almost resembles the flowing, splashing chocolate from a Hershey's commercial. The same smoothness and fluidity applies to her "Art for the Table" line as well, which includes bowls, serving spoons and the like.
Hannie Goldgewicht When admirers learn that Hannie Goldgewicht grew up in Costa Rica, they nod understandingly. "I can see where you get your colors," they say.
The artist, now based in Tarzana in Southern California, shrugs it off. "I just like to find new colors," she said.
She can't deny the Latin American influence on her work, however. On a trip to Argentina, the boyhood home of her husband, artist Leo Gotlibowski, she observed women weaving baskets from pine needles. For her, the idea to combine pine-needle basketry with ceramics simply "clicked," she said.
The bulk of Goldgewicht's work now consists of two distinct parts: a lower half made of grog, a sandy ceramic material that lends itself to intense color and rough, earthy textures; and an upper half of pine needles bundled together almost like rope. The result is a line of vessels that are at once ancient and entirely new.
Sharon Jackman What stands out about a Sharon Jackman piece is the tree. Literally, it snakes up and outward from the rest of the vessel, as though emerging organically from the otherwise smooth surface.
Jackman's "Cliff's Edge" series, she says, celebrates the trees she has observed bursting from cliffsides, growing against all odds.
To create the image, she starts by throwing a bowl on a pottery wheel in her Laguna Niguel, Orange County, studio. She then draws a tree in the clay's leather-hard stage and carves out the negative space. She applies a soft clay called slip, adds color to the trunk, fires and coats the surface with a glaze that causes crystals to grow naturally. The crystalline glaze marks much of her work, lending it its shine and organic quality.
Kurt McCracken With Picasso-esque eyes, squared noses and ribbons of piano keys, much of Kurt McCracken's work can be described in a way that most ceramics can't: cubist.
That's not the only appellation that could apply to his work, though. One could just as easily say abstract, sharply colorful and huge. As part of his repertoire, the Clayton, Calif.-based artist makes vessels several feet tall, meaning there's room for nearly any combination of colors and forms on his canvas of clay.
Sandy Kreyer Sandy Kreyer, of Long Beach, sells her pottery with labels like "flower pot" and "coffee mug," which is helpful, because one would otherwise be prone to place it on the mantle, under the spotlight. In fact, Kreyer's work aims to bring life and beauty to the mundane tasks, like holding the cinnamon.
Hand-painted flowers adorn each of her works, and patterns evoke past luxury -- like a girl's dream tea set, only classier.
What: Palo Alto Festival of the Arts
When: Saturday, Aug. 27, and Sunday, Aug. 28, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: University Avenue, Palo Alto, between High and Webster streets
Info: MLA Productions