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Sawdust Festival Is Stuffed With Original Art, Crafts

July 29, 1988|KAREN NEWELL YOUNG | Karen Newell Young is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Don't you just hate it when there is something you really need and nobody carries it? Like the time you ran out of toe rings? Or when you just had to have a giant bird made of melted spoons? Or when you couldn't get through another day without a cement table for the living room?

Until the end of August there is one spot that carries not only cement coffee tables and toe rings, but also ceramic masks, neon art, spoon sculptures, paper earrings, leather bolo ties and fish-shaped carving boards.

Local artists have been displaying their wares at the Sawdust Festival in Laguna Beach for 22 years. With 160 booths of paintings, sketches, pottery, clothing, jewelry, toys, silk screens, quilts, furniture, enamels and baskets, the festival's 2 1/2 sawdust-sprinkled acres are a good place to begin your Christmas shopping, reward yourself or purchase a romantic trinket for your sweetheart.

The prices are reasonable for original items and all the artists and artisans are local residents, so by buying you are contributing to the local economy.

Choosing art is an individual quest, but with 221 artists at the festival this year, there ought to be a little something for everyone. Browsers may have more trouble narrowing down their selections than finding enough to buy.

If your tastes run to the exotic, head for booth No. 519 where those aforementioned bird sculptures are kept company by other welded metal works created by Dion Wright, one of the founders of the festival and a regular exhibitor. A particular favorite is "Totem of the Outraged Sponsters," a metal monument of spoons and other found materials that costs $125. In his rustic festival workshop, filled with discarded thingamabobs, music stands and mountains of spoons, are dozens of other metal sculptures, including animals and mythical characters.

For ceramic fans, Paula Johansson provides blue and white ceramic "woven" baskets for $14 and up, and a few nicked pieces for half price. She is in booth No. 300. Michele Burgess (booth No. 224) designs soft-looking ceramic jewelry and frames in pastel colors with pearls, shells or rhinestones. A pretty mirror that looks like a treasure washed ashore is made with low-fired ceramic clay and studded with ceramic seashells and starfish. It costs $200; others can be custom-ordered.

Also ceramic and eye-catching are Ora Anderson Sterling's ceramic switch plates depicting animals and scenes for $18 (booth No. 311). Nearby are huge swirl-patterned platters and bowls made of kiln-fired glass by Suzanne Esko for $175. She sells small decorative and functional plates in the same glass motif for $35. Each piece is beveled, colored and swirled by hand, then fired.

Jewelry lovers traditionally flock to the festival for the offbeat designs. Some of the most alluring are sold by Scott Summey and Tara Safran-Flying Horse, who work in glass and silver, respectively. Summey creates glass sculpture and jewelry, which he has arranged like glistening bubbles resting on a bed of rice at booth No. 130.

Flying Horse (same booth) welds silver and other metals into unexpected shapes: angled sculptures that dangle from earlobes or hammered circles surrounded by rings.

Wild and brilliantly colored silk-screen T-shirts by Mark Jamgochian and Tom O'Hara are $12.50 this week (sweat shirts are $15) in booth No. 112. Jamgochian also designs hand-painted earrings and pins in the same bright-colored graphics inspired by his trips to Mexico and the South Pacific.

As much of a draw as the crafts and curios are artist demonstrations, the entertainment scheduled throughout the day and the tranquil paths leading past gurgling waterfalls, flower beds and eucalyptus trees. Dulcimer players and harpists share the space with mimes and magicians and food booths peddle tacos, ice cream, sandwiches, beer, wine and other refreshments.

Each Sawdust booth is unique and built according to the guidelines provided by the Sawdust Festival's board of directors. They take the shape of old-fashioned stores, tree houses, fairy-tale cottages or movie theaters, and transport wandering browsers into a fantasy shopping trip.

Laguna Canyon is abuzz with activity now as the Sawdust Festival unfolds next door to several other popular art shows and craft exhibits. Starfair, a new festival that organizers say is dedicated to the "inner world of peace and harmony" or "the space between us," caters to new artists, many of whom were unable because of space limitations to secure a booth at the Sawdust Festival.

Next door is Art-A-Fair, an exhibit and sale by 180 artists, and down the street is the Festival of Arts, the more traditional and respectable sister to Sawdust.

To avoid the crush of the crowd, get to the Sawdust Festival when it opens at 10 a.m., park at meters along Laguna Canyon Road or the free parking lot just east of the festival grounds on the north side of Laguna Canyon Road. A 50-cent tram ride transports visitors from this lot to the festival or into Laguna's main shopping area.

After Aug. 28, the booths are dismantled and the grounds, which are owned by the nonprofit Sawdust Festival board, remain clear until the next summer's festival, when the artists again will line their counters with toe rings and spoon sculptures to meet the demands of yet another festival.

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