Sawdust artists return to festival grounds ahead of summer reopening

Sawdust Art Festival board members Bruce Freund, Monica Prado, and Patsee Ober record artists’ booth selections on May 18, 2021. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

The Sawdust Art Festival grounds buzzed with activity Tuesday as artists picked their booth spots for the 2021 season, signaling that Laguna Beach might be nearing the end of its COVID-19 shutdown of large public events.

Booth-picking Day landed a day before Orange County entered the less-restrictive yellow tier of the state’s color-coded system for reopening the economy. Gov. Gavin Newsom plans to fully reopen the economy on June 15, which would allow summer festivals to restart without limits on crowd capacity.

Chalk outlines of nearly 160 booths showed a much-expanded Sawdust footprint compared to the Weekend Marketplace, which rotated artists through 45 stations from September thru December. Artists were slated to start construction on their booths Wednesday.

This year’s season will run from July 2 to Sept. 5, which is about a week shorter than usual. Laguna Beach trolleys are slated to start rolling around town again on June 25.

One hiccup Sawdust artists will need to contend with is that Southern California lumber retailers have seen a 40% increase in prices over the last couple of months, Sawdust board member Bruce Freund said. Artists looking to build booths from scratch could see this eat into their bottom line after an already challenging year.

The Sawdust Art Festival grounds were outlined with chalk ahead of booth selection and construction this week. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Charleine Guy, a mixed media artist who has shown her artwork at the Sawdust for 32 years, was among the artists given the earliest opportunity to pick their booth locations due to their seniority with the festival.

“All of the sudden everything comes back to you and you feel like you pick up where you left off,” Guy said.

After more than three decades, she keeps returning to Sawdust for the camaraderie and friendly competition with her fellow artisans.

“It takes care of mental stability,” Guy said. “You’re interacting with the customers. You can’t separate this from your life because it becomes part of it.”

She thinks her granddaughter summed up the festival best as a five-year-old saying, “you can be anything you want to be at the Sawdust.”

Glassblower John Barber said he’s excited to show off pieces from a new technique called pyro-graphic glass watercolors, which he developed during the pandemic. After 40 years of exhibiting his glass artwork at the Sawdust, he skipped last year’s marketplace because it didn’t make sense to haul heavy glass pieces for two-day stints. Instead, he invited customers to his Laguna Canyon gallery until he could move into his booth next to the Sawdust’s glassblowing furnace.

“It’s become a major part of my life,” Barber said. “My daughter grew up never going on a summer vacation. We sent her off with other families.”

Although Sawdust organizers don’t anticipate any problems with getting back to their typical capacity, guests are encouraged to visit to pre-order their tickets.

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