Sawdust Winter Fantasy Rings in Holiday Season

Oil painter and exhibitor Gary Spellman earlier this week readying the Sawdust Festival grounds for the winter show.

Let it snow somewhere else. Laguna Beach receives winter California-style at the annual Sawdust Festival’s Winter Fantasy. “Put a Little Sparkle in your Holiday” opens Saturday, Nov. 19, the 21st annual rendition and will run every weekend through Dec. 11.

Once again, visitors can congregate in the town square to admire 14 trees decorated by local organizations (see sidebar) and witness the lighting of the main Christmas tree by Mayor Toni Iseman and Sawdust President Gavin Heath at 5:30 p.m. opening day followed by entertainment. Performers include the Laguna Community Concert Band, Tricia Freeman, Top of the World school’s chorus and the Lil’ Dickens Carolers among others. The square also features Santa’s house and sleigh, a barn for his reindeer and a playhouse for the kids.

Santa will be on hand to hear Christmas wishes and, seeing that there are roughly 170 artists surrounding him that display jewelry, glass, ceramics, paintings, furniture, textiles, photographs and countless items spanning mediums and classifications, he should be busy.

First-time exhibitor Sheryl Eberhardt readies her booth and looks forward to receiving feedback from customers.

In case he forgets someone, the Marine Corps Reserve are sponsoring Toys for Tots every Sunday. Bring an unwrapped toy for ages newborn-17 and get in free.

The exhibitors include 30 newbies, some of whom have visited the Sawdust as children and harbored dreams of some day being part of it.

For Tom Rich, a Santa Cruz resident, someday is here. “I am so excited about getting in this year. I grew up in Laguna and used to come here as a kid and now I can show my work to friends and family I don’t get to see very often,” he said.

Rich is a painter who, along with conventional canvasses, paints skateboard decks, miniature surfboards and makes screen prints. His latest project involves portraying musicians he admires. He is one of numerous participants permitted to exhibit during winter when Sawdust administrators waive local residency requirements.

Akoko Okeyo, of Newport Beach, will show etched glass panels depicting animals at home in her native Kenya. “I have also tried my hand at marine animals but they are a bit harder to do. I have to still look at pictures to draw them but the African animals are embedded in my memory,” she said.

Okeyo belongs to a London-based glass etchers guild that admits only a hand-full of members world-wide (two including her are from the U.S.) who must pass a yearly examination to stay in.

Margo Burgess’ JuJu dolls have their roots in West Africa. A self-described Army brat, who grew up in Georgia and has lived in Laguna Canyon since 1975,  she has never been to Africa but loves African art. “The dolls are not voodoo dolls but protectors and good luck objects,” she said. “Their heads are made of clay, that’s where their energy is and their spirit comes from their bodies that are stuffed with Spanish moss,” she explained. She went on to say that they wear feathers to allow their spirit to take flight and that their hands are so-called mojo bags that contain coins and other small treasures. Symbolic trinkets also adorn their clothing.

The dolls are color-coded, blue for love, red for power, yellow for success, purple for spirituality, green for wealth and white for positive energy. A painter, she has also tried her hand at fertility dolls and African-inspired masks.

Barry and Jan Lowe are but returnees, but after a 20-year hiatus. “We saw the summer show and friends suggested we come for the winter fest,” said Barry Lowe. The couple collaborates on their woodworking projects and divide their time between Newport Heights and Hawaii.

Much of their designs have been inspired by their life on the big island, he said. Works include bamboo picture frames replete with hand-tied traditional edges. Ornamentation is done in pyrography, a burning technique utilizing what looks like a fine tipped soldering iron. They are also eager to show off their latest invention, a wall-mounted wine rack and copies of a book featuring their work on Fender Guitars, “The Dream Factory” by Tom Wheeler.

And, should the weekends turn out to be more winter than Fantasy, a quick trip to Holly Paris’ booth filled with colorful hand-knit scarves, hats and even covers for (hereabouts) ever-present water bottles will provide welcome relief.


21st Annual Sawdust Winter Fantasy weekends only. Nov. 19, 20, 25, 26, 27. Dec. 3,4, 9,10, 11. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.  Admission: Adults $6, Seniors $5, children 6-12 $3. Season pass $9.  936 Laguna Canyon Rd.







Winter Fantasy Events:


Community Groups decorating Christmas Trees:

Laguna Beach Parents Club, Laguna Beach Boys & Girls Club,

Laguna Presbyterian Preschool, First Thursdays Art Walk, Festival of Arts/Pageant of the Masters, American Legion Auxiliary, CSP Youth Shelter, LB Girl Scout Troops #308/1440, HB Girl Scouts, Girl Scout Troop #1719,  Girl Scout Troop #2032, Girl Scout Troop #444, Girl Scout Troop #1250, Girl Scout Troops #308/1440


Winter Art Series Classes (all complimentary with admission)


Nov. 20. Watercolors with Linda Velasco, 10:30-noon, Sawdust Studio. (ages 6-adult)

Nov. 25 Embellished gift holder with Judy Kearby & Susan Leonard, 3:30-5:30 p.m., Sawdust Studio (ages 6-adult)


Nov. 27 and Dec. 4 & 11, Digital photography with Mary Gulino, 4-5 p.m., Healy House. (all ages)


Nov. 26 and Dec.10, Challenging location photography with Ret Talbot, 4-5 p.m., Healy House (ages 12-adult)


Dec. 3, Aspects of photography with Paul Renner, 4-5 p.m., Healy House (12-adult)


Dec. 4 Weaving with natural dye with Antonio Mendoza, 2:30-3:30 p.m., Healy House (ages 12-adult)


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  1. This is great! I love to see couples together in doing crafty work. It is a lost art which is making a HUGE comeback. I am a big fan of African inspired handmade works. This is just great. Do these artisans have their own websites?


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