Crowds lined up on Tuesday to preview the 45th annual Sawdust Art Festival, whose visitor count reached 3,958, exceeding occupancy limits set by fire officials.
Due to limits stipulating that visitors cannot exceed 2,500, the festival was forced to creatively keep arrivals in check by restricting entry to a corresponding number of people departing, said Sawdust general manager Tom Klingenmeier.
“This year promises to become one of the best ever, with so many visitors coming in and so much art work already going out,” he predicted.
Klingenmeier credits the upsurge in interest to artists who had an extra week to prepare their booths and judicious tree trimming and booth shifting that made extra room on the grounds. This year’s show features more than 200 artists, 20 of them new additions.
Between 6 and 10 p.m. throngs filled undulating aisles to view paintings, photographs, countless permutations of glass art and crafty hybrids that first brought the Sawdust to life in 1966. Visitors get a magical mystery tour of arts and artifacts that stylistically recall the ‘60s and contemporary, technology-aided or inspired fare.
One can easily visualize Woodstock-era beauties and music while contemplating purchase of Leila’s fringed, crocheted bikini tops, John Lucero’s paintings that vibrantly come to life when exposed to a black light or Paul and Bonnie Proppe’s fringed, beaded and feathered belts and purses that recall chic bohemians strolling downtown decades ago.
The festival seamlessly mixes old-timers like the Proppes (44-year exhibitors) or equally entrenched Dion Wright, whose school of fish crafted from antique silverware includes one large beast suspended from the ceiling and appearing ready to devour smaller prey or a sizable chunk of cash. His prizes range from a few hundred bucks to more than a thousand. “I have been here since ’68, one of the ones who started this craziness,” said Wright, 73, with a smile framed by a bushy white beard. A former denizen of the Festival of Art, he said that the Sawdust offered artists more freedom of expression. “When they put down cement over there, I moved.”
Yet, he and wife Esther, 68, concede that the Sawdust has undergone gradual changes since those heady hippie days. “It’s a different world now, the crazies who started this show are now under a corporate umbrella having become adherents to business principles,” he said.
His booth neighbor Will Paul Silverman is a 23-year-old Boston transplant and festival first timer. A communications major in college, he found the field too static and took up furniture making. Lured to Laguna by love, he now sells elegantly crafted coffee tables and minimalist boxes that allow buyers to interchange lids. “Dion has become a good mentor. He’s already taught me quite a bit about the inner workings of the festival,” he said.
While it’s common for crowds to dress in bohemian finery, this year even the trees and shrubs have joined in. Colorful crocheted sleeves and girdles are called the new (sanctioned) graffiti, currently also found around major cities, according to a recent Time magazine article.
Still recovering from last December’s floods, Julieta Jones displayed limited numbers of her prints and Olivia Batchelder modeled a beautiful hand-printed gray silk wrap that eerily recalls ominous skies. Troy Poeschl, sharing a both with his wife Sian, has been able to make some new work since the flood destroyed his studio. Now, a mud-mauled work is suspended from a rafter, a reminder perhaps that even the elements can’t keep their spirits down.
The Sawdust will open to the public on Friday, June 24 at 10 a.m. with a ribbon cutting by Mayor Pro-tem Jan Egly.
Art-A-Fair with its popular fare of painting, photography, glasswork and eclectic crafts by national and international artists (no residency requirements here) will open on Friday as well. Also in its 45th season, it will feature 126 artists, live entertainment and several hands-on workshops. The festival will also feature, Arty, a festival denizen who will hide on the premises in different guises. Visitors lucky enough to spot him, may win a prize.
Sawdust Art Festival June 24-August 28. 949-494-3030
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