In Creativity vs. Mother Nature, Some Lose the Battle

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By Daniella Walsh | LB Indy


The small garage and once cozy studio of artist Olivia Batchelder now looks as if it’s been kicked by a giant’s boot. The inside, once filled with equipment and colors used to paint on silk, is a mud-covered mess surrounded by walls that show roughly 16-inch high water marks.

Her front yard is blanketed by a sea of mud embedded with shards of crockery and glass, which floated downhill from a forgotten debris pit.

Behind the house she bought 11 years ago the creek has subsided, though it is filled with the contents of her neighbors’ homes on Sun Valley Drive. Even so, Batchelder and her partner Steve O’Neill consider themselves fortunate. “It was the night of the winter solstice and around 2:30 a.m. water started to rush down the hill and into our door and kept rising until the creek crested at 4,” she recalled. “In the beginning we felt pretty good about the rain and now we just think it’s a miracle that no lives were lost.”

Though her living room was also inundated, rooms containing racks of handmade garments along with sewing equipment stored elsewhere, were spared. As for the washed up glass, Batchelder plans to incorporate it into new works of art.

Sculptor Louis Longhi lost his home and studio, containing commissioned works along with his computer and expensive equipment required for working with bronze.

“I was getting ready to build a more permanent structure to replace the small one that housed me and my studio. I lost everything but am glad that I have my life and my 10-year old daughter Isabella,” he said.

Longhi attributes his losses to water rushing across Laguna Canyon Road. “All the water came flying across the road and I could not respond. I just had to get out quickly,” he said, adding that he intends to rebuild on stilts to allow water to flow under rather than through his property.

Multi-media artist Marsh Scott, this year’s Artist of the Year recipient from the Laguna Arts Alliance, also lost her studio-gallery with its scenic canyon view. “It took my mother a long time to settle into this peaceful setting and now roughly 80 percent of her career’s work is lost,” said Scott Kramer, the artist’s son, speaking for his mother still too traumatized to respond. “All of the wood and wax and encaustic pieces and prints are gone. We’ve only been able to dry out a few.” He estimates losses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Festival of Arts exhibitor Troy Poeschl lost his studio and works to mud and falling boulders. “What the mud did not ruin got crushed by rocks,” said his wife, Sian Poeschl, the city’s cultural arts manager, whose glass studio also suffered some damage.

Along with their colleagues, the Poeschls did not dwell solely on their losses but expressed gratitude to friends and neighbors for their immediate aid and to the city for coming to the rescue with manpower and equipment.

“We have taken the attitude that this too shall pass. The good that came out of this catastrophe is that so many people have come out to help,” said Kramer.

Two of the city’s arts organizations, the Festival of Art and Sawdust Festival, are offering help to stricken artists to speed their recovery digging out and resuming their livelihood. An unscheduled meeting of the Festival board authorized making $15,000 in operating funds available for this emergency, “something we did from the heart and on the fly,” said festival president, Fred Sattler.

Working artists should file an application along with proof of property occupancy and photographs of the damage, he said. The funds are for immediate help in getting cleaned up but not for replacement of lost equipment or supplies.

The Sawdust’s Artists Benevolence Fund is also available to Laguna Beach artists. “They do not have to be Sawdust exhibitors but have to make at least 80 percent of their living through their art,” said painter Susan Thompson, an administrator of the fund. “The Benevolence Fund is not just for catastrophic illnesses or loss of ability to work but for emergencies such as these,” she said.

Sattler advised affected working artists to contact the Festival beginning Monday and or him directly at (949) 637-2367. They can also contact the Sawdust via Sue Thompson at 949-494-6277.

Anyone wishing to constribute to the fund may send checks to the Artists Benevolence Fund at 935 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach 92651.



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