Dennis Junka, Sawdust Art Festival fixture, dies at 68

A fixture at the Sawdust Art Festival, known to friends as "Junka Bear," has died.

Dennis Junka, who exhibited at Laguna Beach's renowned art festival, died March 28 of complications from diabetes, David Junka, Dennis' twin, confirmed Tuesday. Junka was 68.

"He's always been an artist," David Junka said of his brother.

Junka, a Laguna Beach resident and professional artist, created pen-and-ink prints that often included teddy bears, hence the nickname "Junka Bear," said Jay Grant, who served with Junka on the Sawdust board of directors.

"Dennis was a beloved, likable, memorable member of the Sawdust family," Grant said. "It's hard to imagine the Sawdust without him."

Grant said Junka was "one of the driving forces" in establishing the Winter Fantasy, held every December on the Sawdust grounds, at 935 Laguna Canyon Road. "He was one of our best and most active volunteers. He was generous, outgoing and personable — popular with the patrons."

In addition to his Sawdust involvement, Junka was a member of Laguna Beach's HIV Advisory Committee and served on the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce board of directors, including a stint as president in 2005.

Junka was born in Cleveland and spent most of his life in Southern California. He attended Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles.

A celebration of Junka's life will be held at 1 p.m. April 15 on the Sawdust grounds.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the the Artists' Benevolence Fund, which provides financial assistance to Laguna Beach artists unable to work because of a catastrophic event, according to the Sawdust's website.

bryce.alderton@latimes.com

Twitter: @AldertonBryce

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