For at least the last 100 years, Cambridge has been home to many inspirational people and witnessed numerous stories of success. In cities across America there can be found generous business owners, dedicated officials, and hard working people, but Cambridge seems to have always been home to people who are truly extraordinary. Sidewalk Sam is one of them.
Born in Cambridge, Robert Guillemin, received his Bachelor of Fine Arts (’62), and later Master of Fine Arts (’67) from Boston University. For a time, Guillemin moved to Paris, studying at the École des Beaux-Arts and working as a copyist of master works at the Louvre. He moved back to Massachusetts to continue his blossoming career, and in 1971 he showed two solo exhibitions–one at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis, the other at the Institute of Contemporary Art.
The beginning of his career seemed to reveal a man on the traditional artist’s path, but Guillemin was not satisfied with the museum-and-art-gallery way of life he was finding in the art world. The structured art scene allowed for very limited participation or enjoyment of the art for those other than artists. Guillemin wanted to bring art to the streets and show it to anyone and everyone who was walking by.
In the summer of 1973 Robert Guillemin began drawing artistic masterpieces, in chalk, on the streets of Boston and Cambridge. He started with the Mona Lisa, and continued painting iconic masterpieces as he chatted with the people who stopped to watch. His new canvas was the streets, his new audience became unlimited, and he took on a new persona: Sidewalk Sam
For more than 40 years now, Sidewalk Sam has been chalking on street corners across the country. He has appeared on “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” and the pages of “People Magazine,” and has been featured in hundreds of newspaper articles across the country. He created a non-profit organization named Art Street, Inc. in order to use the arts to rally people around noble causes, and was one of the originators of Boston’s First Night celebration in 1976. In 2007, he led a campaign in Boston to cover the sidewalks of the city with 600 white doves and the message “Stop violence, create peace,” in order to combat youth violence. Confined to a wheelchair after a fall from his roof, Sam continues to connect to the public and lead large, national events, though he remains centered in Boston and Cambridge. He is currently working on FallFire, a festival which will take place in Boston on October 11th, 2010.
More information on all of Art Street, Inc.’s community, business, and school programs, including “Arts and Crafts at the Frog Pond,” and “Chalk One Up for Boston Common,” can be found on their website: http://www.sidewalksam.com/. Sidewalk Sam is truly an innovative, hopeful spirit, who provides a shining example of how much impact extraordinary people can have.
As prepared by:
Gavin W. Kleespies, Executive Director Cambridge Historical Society.
Katie MacDonald, Intern Cambridge Historical Society.