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First the Rubble, Now Sawdust

An artist whose home was damaged in the Bluebird Canyon landslide scrambles to prepare for next week's Laguna art festival.

June 24, 2005|Erica Williams | Times Staff Writer

In a makeshift outdoor studio where Laurel Meister is preparing for her first Sawdust Art Festival, she has had to shoo bugs from her paint and work without an easel.

Finding her double-stick tape, specialized paper and matte boards has been no easy task either. Everything's scattered in boxes and stashed at friends' homes.

This has been Meister's frazzled life since June 1, when her Laguna Beach fixer-upper was severely damaged by a landslide.

"I'm overwhelmed," the 33-year-old illustrator said. "Everything is phenomenally more difficult."

Her Bluebird Canyon home contained the youth-oriented oil paintings she hopes to sell at the 39th Sawdust Art Festival. Luckily, she retrieved all but one original from her red-tagged home.

On Thursday, as workers spread the festival's signature sawdust in preparation for the July 1 opening, Meister was in the backyard of a friend's house putting the finishing touches on the bright orange Popsicle-shaped sign boards that will mark her booth. Still a week behind schedule, she must finish her booth and sign her work before the nine-week festival starts.

The Sawdust Art Festival was created in 1966 as a revolt against Pageant of the Masters and the juried system of the Festival of Arts that excluded some of the town's more bohemian artists.

The funkier cousin of the city's other arts festivals features local artists in a village-like setting of handmade booths and attracts about 200,000 visitors annually.

But Meister and her husband, Tripp, have no choice but to forge ahead. They are relying on Meister, a 1992 graduate of Pasadena's Art Center College of Design, to generate much of the family's income this year. Tripp Meister, 34, quit his job in January to help his wife prepare for the festival.

"We were already in debt up to our ear lobes, and now we're covered in dirt," said Laurel Meister, the mother of two.

The Meisters are like many of this year's 210 artist exhibitors, for whom the event generates a majority of their income.

"This is a very, very important show to me," said Tracey Moscaritolo, an exhibitor since 1968 and a landscape painter for the last 10 years. "I'm dependent on it."

Exposure at the festival leads to commissions and sales throughout the year, she said. But unlike the early days, most artists can no longer rely on the festival alone. Like Moscaritolo, they must keep producing and participating in other shows throughout the year. Many often have full-time jobs too.

"I've had disappointing shows, but I've never had a disappointing Sawdust," she said.

Rob Gage, 64, a first-time exhibitor, hopes he can say the same. A commercial photographer for the last 50 years, Gage is hoping to use the festival to successfully make the transition to fine-arts photography.

He'll share a gallery-style booth with a painter to display his greeting cards, prints and large photographic images.

"I hope I have a chance to put some new things on the wall before the end of the summer," Gage said.

Gage and Meister are among 30 new artists at this year's festival, said Rebecca Meekma, festival spokeswoman.

Though new talent keeps the show fresh, many visitors return each year to see and collect new works from veteran exhibitors.

Meekma said she was initially concerned about the landslide's effect on turnout. She said she now believes the slide was long enough ago that attendance won't be affected.

"We hope people know that we [will] open on schedule," Meekma said. Meister is the only exhibitor Meekma knows of in this year's festival who remains displaced by the landslide.

"The better she does, the better it is for her family," she said.

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