By Allison Jarrell, Special to the Independent
This summer, the Pageant of the Masters will pay homage to the natural beauty and history of its hometown, Laguna Beach, while also celebrating the centennial anniversary of the Laguna Art Museum.
In its 85th year, the pageant’s theme, “Under the Sun,” features the work of early 20th century plein air painters and Impressionists, including Laguna’s own artistic pioneers, who set up their easels outdoors in search of new inspiration. The pageant’s tableaux vivants, or “living pictures,” recreate these works of art with the help of 500 volunteers who together contribute more than 60,000 hours of their time to the show.
Pageant Director Diane Challis Davy said the idea to add a tribute to the Laguna Art Museum this year was a collaboration with pageant scriptwriter Dan Duling and museum director Malcolm Warner.
“That is the centerpiece of our show, in a way,” Challis Davy said. “It’s all about Laguna’s heritage and our history. It’s kind of this love letter to how beautiful Laguna Beach is.”
Challis Davy said she was particularly inspired by a model on display at the museum of the original 1918 art gallery. The model incorporates doll-like effigies of the museum’s founding artists, as well as miniature paintings by those artists, such as Edgar Payne, Anna Hills, William Wendt and Frank Cuprien.
“I’m really looking forward to doing that staging of the early Laguna artists,” she said. “I think it will surprise the people at the museum.”
In true historical fashion, the pageant kicks off with the story of the Laguna Woman, whose skeletal remains were discovered in Laguna Beach by a teenager in 1933. The woman’s skull was dated at over 17,000 years old, making her’s the oldest human remains ever found in North America.
From there, Act I transports viewers through the history of the south coast, from the early Mission days, to the California “orange rush” and the marketing of local orange groves, and concluding with a tribute to local surf culture.
“Eventually we make our way to the history of the art colony of Laguna Beach, how the art association and art museum was founded, and we even do a little bit of the history of the early Pageant of the Masters,” Challis Davy said.
Pageant organizers debuted one such historical piece at a media preview Monday, June 4, a recreation of the iconic World War II photograph of the flag raising over Iwo Jima. Narrator Richard Doyle set the scene as cast members dressed as Marines took their place beneath the American flag.
“The festival and pageant had gone dark for five years along with the rest of the West Coast during World War II’s mandatory security blackouts,” Doyle began. “But with the end of the war, as the nation celebrated, Laguna Beach made plans to revive the festival and pageant. The pageant’s new director Frederick Schwankovsky wanted to start off the 1946 pageant with a living tableau that would express and celebrate America’s patriotism and resilience throughout the war. For him, the choice was obvious. They would recreate the iconic photograph by Joe Rosenthal of the flag raising over Iwo Jima.”
Challis Davy said that in addition to a few surprises at the end of Act I, the show will feature some traditional elements as well, such as a tribute to Claude Monet in Act II, featuring music by composer Claude Debussy.
“It’s beautiful and poetic, and I think everybody is going to like that,” she said.
The Laguna narrative isn’t just prominently featured in this year’s theme—it’s woven into the very fabric of the show, with Laguna artists such as David Cooke creating the visually stunning sets.
Cooke, who has been bringing iconic artwork to life for the pageant for 13 years, was working on recreating a 40-foot-long mural by artist Millard Sheets on June 4. The original all-glass mosaic depicts an array of beach scenes and is located at Wilshire Boulevard and 26th Street in Santa Monica.
“A lot of us who grew up around here have seen [his work] somewhere,” he said.
The set is the 10th piece Cooke has done since his work began in January. Each year, the pageant’s artists are tasked with creating one set about every two weeks over the course of six months.
When asked what his secret is to finishing on time, Cooke smiled.
“I couldn’t tell you if I knew one,” he said. “After a while you figure out how to attack something and get it done within the time frame.”
The Pageant of the Masters production runs July 7 through Sept. 1 at the Festival of Arts grounds, 650 Laguna Canyon Road. Each performance kicks off at 8:30 p.m. Advance tickets run from $15 to $260. To purchase tickets, visit pageanttickets.com or call 800-487-3378.
The Festival of Arts runs July 5 through Sept. 1 with an array of art exhibits, art workshops, special events and other activities for attendees to enjoy, including concerts, tastings and fashion shows. Original fine art from more than 140 juried Orange County artists will also be for sale throughout the festival.
Admission is $10 for weekdays and $15 for weekends, $7-$11 for students and seniors, $5 for children 6 to 12, and admission is free for military, children under 5, and Laguna residents.
For more information on festival events or the pageant, visit www.foapom.comor call 949-494-1145.
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