Preview parties summoned local residents this week to the Sawdust Art Festival and Art-a-Fair, both of which open their doors on Laguna Canyon Road Friday, June 29, and for the remainder of the two-month long summer season.
A similar ritual will be carried out next week on the road’s opposite side with the Festival of Arts exhibition opening to the public Thursday, July 5, and the curtain drawn aside for the nightly Pageant of the Masters production starting Saturday, July 7.
Amid the Sawdust Festival’s corridors of open-air stalls, expected to welcome 200,000 visitors over the next nine weeks, two of 19 new exhibitors could hardly suppress their joy over gaining a foothold among the show’s 200 arts and crafts exhibitors.
As long-time residents, Kyle Caris and Nancy Deline both know well the transitory culture of the summer festival, where artists put their stamp on individually built booths and musicians perform from three stages on the tree-shaded grounds.
Now, both will experience the festival as full-fledged members of a unique artist family, whose legacy was to protest the Festival of Arts’ jurying system by establishing an alternative show 52 years ago.
As a teen, Caris worked as a booth sitter and food service worker at the festival. Today, the ceramicist displays mugs, tumblers, bowls, pitchers and vases formed by his own hands and glazed in a pastel-hued palette.
As sources of inspiration, Caris credits his former high school ceramics teacher, Bill Darnall, and Mark Blumenfeld, both Sawdust Festival exhibitors. “I fell in love with it,” said Caris, who admitted to ditching academic classes in order to turn the potter’s wheel.
After working three years in restaurants and attending Orange Coast College, Caris resolved to try a different turn, this time spinning passion into a career. It took Caris eight months to build up enough inventory for the show while working two jobs and helping his mother, now in recovery after cancer.
Along the way, he’s developed his own style. “It’s a little less on the perfection side and more free form with more organic glazes,” said Caris, who teaches at Muddy’s Studio in Santa Ana in exchange for use of its kilns. He plans to pursue a fine arts degree at the Kansas City Art Institute next spring.
For Deline, becoming a first-time Sawdust exhibitor serves as a full-blown extension of her lifelong avocation as a jewelry maker. She still has the first necklace she made at 12. As an elementary school teacher, Deline delighted in taking advantage of Mother’s Day to teach her second-graders how to twist discarded phone cable wire into gift bracelets. And class volunteers earned a reward of her hand-made necklaces.
Since retiring from teaching five years ago, Deline’s creative bent has yielded adornment with an evolving style, from French antique fittings to crystals. She’s sold them at other craft fairs and online.
To adhere to the festival’s rules requiring original art work, Deline’s medium of choice turned to sea glass. “I fell in love with it,” Deline said. “When you touch it, your body oils make it richer and translucent.”
Even so, Deline’s fingers show the scars of mastering new tools that require the dexterity to drill under water. Like jewelers who use precious stones, she sifts collected glass for pieces of common size and shape to devise a pair of earrings or a choker.
As a newcomer, Deline admitted to feeling overwhelmed by booth-building regulations, which involve adhering to city building and fire codes as well as Sawdust rules. “If I had known all that was involved, I might have bailed,” she said.
In the run-up to the opening, as other artists worked to assemble their own sales nooks, Deline said her own booth received a welcoming nod of approval from a nearby exhibitor, Earl Reid. “It’s going to be a great neighborhood,” he told her.
Some among the 5,300 visitors who attended the preview event this past Tuesday were likely taken aback to see the familiar face of longtime exhibitor and glass blower John Barber.
“I’m like Cher; I came out of retirement,” he said. After announcing his intention to quit blowing after last summer’s show, Barber said he was overwhelmed by an outpouring of affection from patrons, aghast at the prospect of his departure. “Who knows? This could be it,” said Barber, his eyes giving away what is likely a mischievous deceit. “I love it and I’ll come back as long as I’m able,” he added.
Barber’s plans seemed prescient after he suffered a recent fall at his home and broke a hip. But that experience also revealed the character of the town’s art community. “People came to my rescue,” he said.
The Sawdust Festival and Festival of Arts, where Barber also exhibited, provided a total of $9,000 in financial support, aid accumulated from sales of work donated by artists such as Barber himself.
Those who seek out Barber’s booth will find his signature tri-color tumblers and beer steins. They will also gaze on an unusually large and distinctive work that incongruously anchors the tiny booth, a 10-foot long column of glass forms that seem to wave like living things.
It’s called “Feeding Frenzy” and was executed under a grant and hung at the nearby performance venue Seven Degrees for five years. Barber took it back.
“I needed a feeding frenzy at my booth,” he said.