Crowds at Sawdust Festival Ring In Summer



Painter and performance artist Deborah Paswaters reinvisions a living picture with model Ruth Dormaier in her booth at the Sawdust Art Festival, which opens to the public today.
Painter and performance artist Deborah Paswaters reinvisions a living picture with model Ruth Dormaier in her booth at the Sawdust Art Festival, which opens to the public today.

Painter and performance artist Deborah Paswaters earns special attention at this year’s Sawdust Art Festival, where every artist’s booth is decked out to lure the eyes of potential patrons. Paswaters, though, invites people to experience the painting of a live model who is taking the place of a canvas here. She applies coats of body paint to a young woman, who keeps changing stances while Paswaters covers her with vivid abstract lines like one might paint on an inanimate surface, which, as the rest of her displays show, she does as well.

“She is a living sculpture,” said the first time exhibitor of the fully clothed, painted dancer.

This past Tuesday’s preview of the 47th Sawdust Festival, kick starting the town’s summer trio of Laguna Canyon art havens, revealed a culture that may have reached middle-age, but retains youthful energy. Sawdust as well as the nearby Art-a-Fair both open to the public today; the Festival of Arts opens Sunday, June 30, and the Pageant of the Masters the week thereafter, Sunday, July 7.

Even long lines at the entrance and usurious parking fees of up to $20 at nearby private lots did nothing to dampen spirits among artists and visitors alike. Although the place was filled to capacity, crowds moved freely, assessing the usual variety of wares ranging from paintings and prints to photographs, glass, ceramics and multi-media creations defying classification.

“I won’t buy fabrics. I hate fabric stores,” said wearable art designer Sandy Searle, holding up an intricately appliquéd evening jacket made from a table runner. Then again, she turns shower curtains into chic raincoats, makes elegant jackets from bedspreads and tops from lacy tablecloths.

The Laguna Beach resident has exhibited her clothing line Dazzle at the Sawdust since 1979. “I used to also own a clothing boutique but found that I was becoming a storekeeper rather than an artist. It’s all about freedom for me,” she added.

It’s true, however, that over time the artist-owned Sawdust adopted more formal rules since its hippie-era inception, but exhibitors cherish the lack of physical strictures. Requirements that artists build their own booths and create works by hand have proved a business model with longevity. Other rules, such as those requiring exhibitors be residents, are stretched on occasion.

Helga Yaillen is exhibiting her wearable art creations at the Sawdust for the first time. Entirely self-taught, she began by making a handbag during a Laguna Woods crafts class and branched out into exotic looking tops that could as easily grace an Aztec warrior as an adventurous modern dresser. Combining materials like felt and chiffon, she hand-dyes wool to achieve Nuno felting, a Japanese process that renders the felt soft and pliable.  Born in 1942 in Germany, she said that she had always been an artist but that clothing construction is a relatively new skill.

Sculptor Larry Gill’s gets attention of visitors.
Sculptor Larry Gill’s gets attention of visitors.

As has become tradition, the Sawdust will provide crowds with music and libations, new among them the jazz-blues band Brother Yusef, the Alturas playing South American music, the Amanda Castro Band reviving vintage ‘20s and ‘30s music and local Laguna band Moonshine, which will keep crowds toe-tapping with rockabilly tunes. And, the customarily raffled off car: a Subaru.

Most notable among yearly events is the Artist Benevolence Fund Auction taking place on Aug. 11, said 13-year-exhibitor Sue Thompson, treasurer of the fund. “This year, we are auctioning off a trove of vintage art glass donated by a couple from Anaheim Hills, and will have a live as well as silent auction for the first time,” she explained. Her paintings meanwhile are inspired by local restaurants and their employees.  Having toiled in the restaurant business herself, she said: “I paint what I know.”

A children’s art booth and Sawdust Studio Art Classes conducted on Fridays and Saturdays might help inspire future artists/exhibitors.

Among the strolling throng, Mayor Pro tem Elizabeth Pearson and Ann E. Wareham, creative director of the Laguna Playhouse. “The Sawdust is the heart of Laguna,” Pearson said. “Summer has begun.”

All Sawdust events can be found at


Photos by Jody Tiongco

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