Artist Turned Seamstress Finds a Calling


Story and photos by Susie Campbell, Special to the Independent


Joyce Campbell, right, with her daughter Cathy, visiting for her mother’s 90th birthday.

Joyce Campbell turned 90 on Sept. 17. Even so, she does not let the grass grow under her feet. In the last year, her hands stitched over 400 dresses for African children through the church’s Sewing Dresses for Africa project.

Campbell was 3 months old when her mother and father moved to Laguna Beach from Canada to build houses. Her father, John Bronger, designed and built some of the first homes in Laguna. (The five little cottages on Park Avenue were designed and built by him.) Initially, she lived in a tent on Main Beach with her mom, dad, and older sister Bev.

She always loved Laguna. When her son Don Campbell purchased his first home in town in 1970 she was thrilled to come back for visits and to skip camping in a tent.
Campbell and her husband Wally raised their four children in Temple City. He was a fire captain and she was an artist. Campbell made beautiful woven wall hangings and paper sculptures and dreamed of returning to Laguna. When Wally passed away almost three years ago, that’s exactly what she did.

Campbell rents her Temple City house but lives in an apartment overlooking the sea on Cliff Drive. Her days are spent sewing dresses on a machine that she purchased at age 16 for $75. The machine doesn’t sew in reverse, but she doesn’t mind or want to trade it for another. Her handiwork of 400 dresses will be shipped off in a few weeks.

When she first moved to Laguna, Campbell’s life was lacking a meaningful purpose. Her introduction to the Presbyterian church and the sewing club that meets every Tuesday from 12:30-3 opened a door for her.

Her realization that life is not worth living unless it’s spent giving to others is what compels her to make dresses. Citizens donate material used for the project, led by church member Diane Cullings.

On Sept. 17, Joyce will be celebrating her 90th birthday with family and friends in her cozy apartment overlooking the sea.

With enough material scattered around her apartment to make another 100 dresses, you can be sure Campbell celebrated her birthday by putting family and friends to work in her “sweat shop” by threading elastic, trimming pockets, ironing or preparing the evening dinner.
For further information on dress project or other projects the Laguna Presbyterian Church is involved in, visit our website


Susie Campbell is a Presbyterian church member.

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