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Kids Studio Is Art Work

Everyday Items Transformed at Artmaker, Among the Tenants at Rossmoor Center


We all know what to do when life gives us lemons. But life gave Dixie Dohrmann a black 1966 Volkswagen Beetle. Without an engine.

So Dohrmann did what she does when life gives her just about anything, from a pile of empty egg crates to mounds of plastic milk bottle caps to dozens of pizza boxes and even more paint sticks.

She made art.

More precisely, she helped children remake "Arty," the moniker that now sticks to the VW, along with countless layers of brightly colored paint, some strategically placed paper cups, a few Legos and a giant rooftop party hat.

The rolling objet d'art sits next to the window at the Artmaker, the children's studio and party place Dohrmann founded and runs in Seal Beach with help from a few of her friends.

Although Arty reflects the studio's emphasis on turning everyday items into works of self-expression, it also would make a good mascot for the whole Rossmoor Shopping Center. This collection of shops, restaurants and recreation centers long ago outlived its youth, but it continues to recycle itself as a center of fun.

Something Real

Before the Artmaker moved to its 3,200-square-foot studio at 12371 Seal Beach Blvd., Dohrmann taught crafts to kids on a card table at a Long Beach mall.

"Remember how people used to press leaves between waxed paper?" she said. "Well, I thought we were losing activities like that. I wanted something that was the opposite of a kit or a computer. You just get some everyday items, use your imagination and see what you can make."

Dohrmann also wanted to teach children about the importance of recycling, so she started collecting things that otherwise would have been discarded. But the bins of toilet paper rolls and bags of wine corks soon outgrew her garage, and she started looking for a place to hold events.

When the Seal Beach space became available three years ago, she snagged it. Now it too bulges with refuse just waiting to become art.

Bags, buckets and bins hold golf tees, seashells, strawberry baskets, milk cartons, soda bottles and beads from those kitschy drapes that were popular in the '60s. Almost everything is donated, often by people or companies Dohrmann doesn't even know, and almost everything gets used--eventually.

Dohrmann said she and Artmaker cohorts Maria Montes and Darcy Mary start to plan a project by putting donated items in the middle of a table. Then they experiment with what they can create.

Egg cartons became holiday door signs, old Mylar balloons were reborn as party hats and the pizza boxes and paint sticks were transformed into Mardi Gras masks.

Drop-in classes are Saturdays at 1 p.m. for ages 2 and older and Thursdays at 10:30 a.m. for parents and their 2- to 5-year-olds. Both classes are $8.

Other events include classes in everything from cooking to acrylic painting. Call (877) 203-0242 or (562) 596-8896 for a complete schedule.

A popular offering is the Arty Party birthday celebration, which includes cake, punch and four art projects for all the celebrants. It's $198 for up to 10 children.

The Artmaker has even started offering similar events for adults seeking to tap their imaginative inner child. "People get together, they have a little wine and the projects get better and better," Dohrmann said.

A Taste for Fun

A short walk from the Artmaker is a restaurant whose design matches the whimsy of some of the works Dohrmann's students concoct.

The Parasol (12241 Seal Beach Blvd., [562] 598-3311) was born of that fun era in Southern California architecture when restaurants were often shaped to match their theme.

And like the Brown Derby and the Tail of the Pup in Los Angeles, the Parasol rises like a giant Monopoly piece on Seal Beach Boulevard.

Inside, light fixtures shaped like pink parasols hang from the vaulted ceiling that climbs to a point. The vinyl booths and counter stools are pure '60s, although they're reproductions. However, most of the light fixtures date to the restaurant's opening in 1967, manager Troy Hall said.

"Some of this stuff I know they don't make anymore," said Hall, whose dad Roy helped open the Parasol as a cook in '67 and then bought the place in 1982.

Lucky for us, the Parasol still makes some of the stuff on its original menu, like the international omelet (ham, sausage, bacon and cheese, $5.95), the homemade meatloaf ($6.75) and the old-fashioned pot roast ($7.75). The Monday night special is still fried chicken, although now it's $5.55 instead of $1.

The old favorites are great, but so are many of the newer items, like the Sheepherder Sandwich--feta cheese, artichoke hearts, Greek olives, red onion, sliced tomato and romaine on sheepherder bread, with fries or slaw for $6.25. The kids' menu features the cheesiest homemade macaroni and cheese you've ever encountered ($2.75, including drink and dessert).

The Parasol is open daily 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Rolling into a New Era

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