Strolling through North Chicago, look to the pavement and you might be surprised with a vibrant, joyful image of your favorite characters — from Charlie Brown and Snoopy to Clifford the Big Red Dog — ready to brighten your day. These murals are the work of Rebecca LaFlure (’08) and next to the nostalgic, throwback characters with the joyful bold colors, you’ll find her signature Instagram tag, @ChalkOfTheTown312.
“I constantly feel so lucky that I stumbled upon this thing that makes me personally so happy, and it also makes other people smile,” LaFlure said. “I love when people tell me how much they enjoy seeing my work as they walk around.”
In 2020, Rebecca LaFlure turned a pandemic-inspired pastime shared with her daughter into a creative outlet that garnered her the title of “your neighborhood chalk lady” and has given her a platform to celebrate people, who — like her — have limb differences.
“I started realizing I had a knack for it,” LaFlure said. “I enjoyed it, and it was a stress relief during a difficult time in the world.”
Her neighbors began noticing and made an effort to walk by her house to see what she would do next.
“One person suggested getting an Instagram handle and putting it under my chalk drawings so others could follow along,” she said. “I started to get a following in my area, and now it’s this cool thing I never expected.”
News stations have interviewed her (including former Baylor classmate, Samuel Chen, who had Rebecca on as a guest for his Philadelphia-based television news show, “Face the Issues,”) and she has appeared on podcasts and in the pages of regional magazines. Residents also began hiring her to spread a little extra joy for their friends and neighbors.
Now, when she walks around the city, if she notices a good surface, she’ll take a mental note and make plans to come back and chalk. Maybe a Bugs Bunny or Winnie the Pooh will make an appearance on that street corner in the future.
The road to celebrated chalk artist goes back to her love of writing and pursuit of creative outlets.
LaFlure is a Texas native who graduated from Baylor University in 2008 with a degree in journalism, focusing on public relations. After graduation, she worked for a variety of Texas-based newspapers in Killeen and Austin before heading to Chicago to get her master’s in journalism from Northwestern University. Today, when she’s not making chalk come to life, she is the senior director of Chicago-based investigations firm 221B Partners.
“I was originally an undecided major,” she said. “I was initially hesitant to go down the journalism road; I didn’t know if I had the confidence to make it as a career.”
Writing, however, and the creative outlet it allowed was always a big part of her life. She spent her childhood drawing, writing comics, and crafting her own newspaper.
In May 2007, LaFlure was in a car accident and lost fingers on her right, dominate hand. She was met with a new chapter of adjusting to life after limb loss and worried she’d never write again with her right hand.
“After the accident, there was a whole transition of me trying to feel comfortable and accepting it,” LaFlure recalled of that period.
During her first reporter job at the Killeen Daily Herald, LaFlure covered a summer camp in the area specifically for teens with hand differences.
“That was a really huge moment for me,” she said. “At that point, it had only been like two years since the accident. I was still wearing a prosthetic everywhere and adapting. Meeting all the teenagers with hand differences and seeing how confident they were was impactful.”
LaFlure described those years as a transitional period of not wanting to tell people about her hand and always wearing a prosthetic.
“I didn’t want to acknowledge it, and I didn’t want people to know that I was different,” she said.
More than a decade later, LaFlure has decided that not wearing a prosthetic is the best path for her and gives visibility to limb loss through her journey re-learning to handwrite and creating beautiful drawings with the pavement as her canvas.
“I describe my art as joyful and fun,” LaFlure said. “I like to use really bright colors and although I draw all kinds of things, I am really drawn to characters I find nostalgic.”
A 1990s kid through and through, LaFlure loves to draw Nickelodeon favorites and throwbacks to her youth. Her fans love the style, too.
“I tend to like to do well-known characters,” she said. “People seem to enjoy coming across a character they feel nostalgic about, but I put my own spin on it, like a punk rock version of the Pink Panther.”
LaFlure shares her art on Instagram, and has garnered admirers from across the country. She has a growing fanbase both locally and online, and now is commissioned by Chicago residents to do custom pieces, chalking for everything from birthdays and adoptions or to just to brighten up a neighborhood.
“I am currently talking with people who want to surprise their friend going through cancer treatment just to make them smile,” she said. “People have asked me to do drawings for all these big moments in their life, which is really cool.”
LaFlure continues to use her platform to encourage others with limb differences like herself. Last April, for Limb Loss and Limb Difference Awareness Month, she donated her commissions to nonprofit Lucky Fin Project and chalked in her signature shirt that reads, “Ten Fingers Are Overrated.”
“Now I am at the point where I don’t feel like it’s something I need to hide, and I am proud of what I was able to overcome,” she said. “I am happy to talk about my story with others. And if it inspires some people, that’s awesome.”
Chalk, it turns out, is a powerful tool. For LaFlure, it’s a creative connection with her daughter, a way to make her neighborhood a little brighter, and an avenue to shine a light on limb loss.