Newcomers Enliven Laguna’s Winter Art Fair

First time exhibitor Sandy Groves, maintains a studio in Laguna Canyon, arranges his creations for sale.

This year’s 22nd Annual Winter Fantasy, “Art for the Holidays,” offers a cornucopia of gifts by 170 artists, Laguna Beach’s outdoor antidote to the Black Friday blues.

Varieties of glass and jewelry dominate, but visitors clamoring for ceramics, paintings, photographs and whimsical multi-media works will not be disappointed.

Suzi Anderson, a first time exhibitor, sells a knit collection of colorful wool hats and scarves to ward off canyon chill. Jesse Bartels has created colorful tile landscapes that, although stylistically diverse from his dad Marlo’s work, show that the apple has not fallen far from the tree.

General manager Tom Klingenmeier remarked that even after 22 years, the Winter Fantasy amid a eucalyptus grove stays fresh. “We have 30 new artists to bring new energy and success this season,” he said.

Celtic art therapist Erin Rado shares the therapeutic benefits of her creations with a visitor. She withdrew from the festival amid controversy over complying with manufacturing rules.

The infusion of fresh talent coincides with a moratorium on exhibitor residency requirements in winter. Sawdust rules still demand that artists sell original works that are 100 percent or very close to, hand-crafted, and spend weeks erecting temporary booths rigged with lighting.

The former was put to the test this past Sunday. Erin Rado, of Crestline, who describes her plates as Celtic art therapy, was informed her work violated the festival’s guidelines by mixed media artist and board member Dennis Junka.

Rado affixed a vinyl-like coating covered with motifs and lines connecting Celtic knots, which buyers could trace with a chopstick-like wand to achieve calm. She claims that this exercise has especially benefitted kids with mild forms of autism, adult stroke victims, symptoms of multiple sclerosis and post-traumatic stress.

Antonia Mendoza displays rugs and tapestries woven with natural yarns and dyes in the manner of his Zapotec ancestors.

Withdrawing voluntarily, she wrote on her website: “I am truly saddened by the myopic thinking” by the festival administrators, which, “could not see that Celtic Art Therapy was making an impact on the show’s clientele….”

Even though she had been juried into the festival, she had also been told to change manufacturing methods of her disks, explained festival spokeswoman Cynthia Fung.

“I am sad to see her go,” said Junka. “The whole committee loved her work, but the disks were not approved; the psychological use of her work was never an issue. She did not abide by the contract,” he said.

Minus one, the show goes on:

At age 71, Sandy Groves, a Laguna local, is a notable newcomer this year in Booth 122. “I became hooked on ceramics in my 20s and have been making studio ceramics for the last 40 years,” he said. With a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in public administration, he worked as a deputy city manager in Laguna in the ‘90s, but kept his hand in ceramics all along.

Top of the World Elementary’s chorus enchanted first-day visitors last Saturday.

Abstracted natural forms in earth colors envelop his sturdy plates and vessels that are both tactile and visually engaging.

“I’ve come here so often as a patron and had wanted to be part of the Sawdust for a long time,” he said. “There even already was a booth for me, all I did was put up shelves,” he said.

Weaver Antonio Mendoza, of Santa Ana, set up shop in the canyon a third time, this time in Booth 512. He learned his craft in Mexico at age 7, using only natural tints and dyes, spun feathers and carefully placed tiny insects. His collection of subtly colorful rugs and tapestries successfully combine ancient Zapotec design with contemporary touches.  An indigo blue and beige tapestry reminds one of a contemporary abstract depiction of sea and sand, but, as Mendoza explains, a tight weaving technique will make it last for 100 years.

Parking at the festival remains a challenge but it’s offset by Santa Claus ready to hear Christmas wishes, rock bands, and plenty of food and drink. Glass blowers are ready to share techniques, and those with hidden talents can try their hand at ceramics. Kids can create a gift at the Children’s Art Spot and Studio One.

On Sundays, visitors earn free admission if they bring an un-wrapped toy for the Toys for Tots drive.

The festival continues on weekends through Dec. 9.


Photos by Jody Tiongco

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  1. The above article, Newcomers Enliven Laguna’s Winter Art Fair, contains several inaccuracies which I wish to clarify.

    1) The caption “Celtic Art Therapist Erin Rado” is both incorrect and misleading. I am an artist, not a therapist. I have no clinical training, nor do I represent that I do. My title is simply “Artist”.

    2) Celtic Art Therapy plates are NOT made from vinyl. They are made from individually cut and laminated gicleé art prints, which is why the Sawdust Festival allowed them to be shown – as per contract. The problem came in mounting the prints, which the festival considered to be tantamount to making ‘coasters’, and which I considered to be a myopic interpretation of the bi-laws.

    3) I don’t merely “claim” that Celtic Art Therapy has psychological benefit. There are nurses, psychologists, and PhDs using Celtic Art Therapy in their practices that can attest to the tool’s effectiveness.

    4) Celtic Art Therapy has shown benefit with ALL forms of Autism, including both high and low functioning.

    As I stated to your journalist, the conflict with the Sawdust Festival came when trying to find a compromise with Mr. Junka on how to show Celtic Art Therapy. He stated in my jury interview that I could present the laminated art prints to customers and then mount them for the customer at the time of purchase. He later added the caveat, “on cardboard”, which created an unusable product and forced my withdrawal from the show. Mr. Junka claimed he created the caveat in the original interview. I claim that he did not.

    I hope this clarifies misinformation posted in this article.

    Thank you,
    Erin Rado
    Artist and Creator of Celtic Art Therapy


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