Sawdust Artists ‘Grateful’ As Outdoor Marketplace Rolls Into Holiday Season

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Sawdust Exhibitor Patsee Ober holds her photo of an ocean sunset. Courtesy of Patsee Ober

For three more weekends, 80 artists who began their weekend rotations in mid-September at the Sawdust Art Festival’s Outdoor Marketplace will be selling their wares to holiday shoppers. Some 32 additional artists are showing their work at the garden gallery, where they are not in attendance but which is staffed by board members and others.

While new state restrictions due to Orange County’s purple tier designation has forced the marketplace as of mid-November to close outdoor dining and beverage options and further limit the number of guests, the spacious Eucalyptus grove will be open for business and hopping with live music.

Monica Prado, president of the Sawdust board of directors, said recent state restrictions have also lowered the capacity for shoppers from 500 to 250 at a time (normally the space can hold 2,5000, but the mood at the marketplace is still “joyous.”

“We are primarily selling tickets online and no one is waiting in line now that we’ve entered the purple tier and have had to reduce capacity and let go of concessions and the Saloon,” Prado said. “But we are carrying on despite those changes and now you can see how spacious and safe the grounds are.”

But more importantly, she added, it’s given the artists a morale boost. “It doesn’t replace everything we lost when we had to close this summer, but it’s wonderful to be together, to smile and exchange a few words. It’s been a joyous experience for artists, staff and the community.”

Working collaboratively with the city, the Sawdust Art Festival’s Outdoor Marketplace has taken precautions to provide a safe experience for guests with extensive safeguards and preventative measures.

“I want to commend the Sawdust Board of Directors for their creativity in developing a plan that will allow a great Laguna tradition to continue,” Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen said in September when the marketplace opened. “Our community was founded by artists and the marketplace will provide an opportunity for many local artists to sell their art to support themselves and their families.”

Mary Ann Guerra, a glassblower who has blown glass live and exhibited at the Sawdust for the past seven years, says the weekend rotations “have gone very well. It’s wonderful to see our regular clients and really special to see new people come out to the Marketplace. I love how respectful and kind and sweet everyone is, social distancing and wearing masks.”

Guerra said that while the weekend Marketplace has not recouped the losses from a normal summer run, “I feel really grateful for what we have. As an artist, it’s really important to connect with clients safely. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if we hadn’t been able to open up.”

Mary Ann Guerra shapes glass at the Sawdust Art Festival’s Weekend Outdoor Marketplace. Courtesy of Mary Ann Guerra

When Patsee Ober, an underwater photographer whose work is focused on the marine protected areas of Laguna Beach, found out the summer festival was cancelled, she temporarily reinvented herself.

“When I learned we didn’t have a show this summer I got a job at the Balboa Island Ferry as a driver,” she said. “I was really stoked to get hired but I missed my art and swimming and all the artists, so I’m really happy to be back here.”

Reconfiguring the festival grounds to be safe for COVID-19 was a full-time job but Ober’s glad the artists didn’t give up.

“It shows off our beautiful eucalyptus grove and you can see it now when all the booths aren’t smashed up against each other. We can never make up for what we lost in the summer,” she added. “It’s just weekends and we close at 4 p.m. and there are no concessions now. We have all learned to live on a lot less, but some artists have said they’ve done better than ever, probably because you can really see the art.”

Brett Keast has exhibited his pen and ink, watercolors and swimwear at the Sawdust for 44 years.

“It was great to be able to show art again on weekends, but it’s very different.

No Santa, no food or drink and limited entry. It’s been hard,” he said.

Keast has relied on the summer festival for his swimwear sales, but he has reinvented himself as well but repurposing fabrics to make face masks since April.

Sawdust Art Festival Presents an Outdoor Marketplace will be open on Saturdays and Sundays only through Dec. 20, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and free for kids 12 and under. Tickets must be purchased online ahead of time.

For tickets and more information visit

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