The Laguna Plein Air Painters Assn. was founded in 1996 by local artists Ken Auster, Jacobus Bass, Cynthia Britain, Saim Caglayan and John Cosby to restore landscapes to artistic prominence.
It has grown beyond their wildest dreams, with 300 members and the presentation this year of the 14th annual Laguna Beach Plein Air Painting Invitational, in which 40 artists from across the country participated.
"What really pleases me is that one visiting artist said Laguna's invitational is one of the two top plein air events in Northern America," said invitational President Greg Vail.
"Plein air" is a derivation of the French phrase for open air, which is where public events in the weeklong annual invitational were held.
Artists pick their sites in the tradition of the Laguna Beach Art Society, founded in 1918, which established Laguna as an art colony.
The week also featured outdoor demonstrations by artists and paint-outs for children in Heisler Park, students at Laguna College of Art & Design and one sponsored by the Crystal Cove Alliance Art Council.
Paint-outs are groups of artists painting or drawing together in myriad styles.
Other highlights of the week included a fine art lecture by Jean Stern, executive director of the Irvine Museum, and a private tour by the Laguna Canyon Foundation.
Work created during the week were displayed Saturday on the walls of Laguna Art Museum, which evolved from a sales gallery for the Laguna Beach Art Assn., which was founded in 1918 and claims to be the oldest cultural institution in Orange County.
The museum's permanent collection contains works by the early Laguna Beach painters such as plein air luminaries Edgar Payne and Frank Cuprien.
The invitational adds to Laguna's artistic reputation, according to City Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson, an early and enthusiastic supporter of LPAPA.
"This event brings national recognition to our city," Pearson said.
Pearson was among the guests at the Collectors' Soiree, held Saturday night at the museum that culminated the invitational.
The soiree, which included dinner, was organized by Sarah Strozza and Rosemary Swimm, assisted by committee members Lyn Burke, past museum President Robert Hayden III, Jan Kaplan, Linda Stern, Mary Linda Strotkamp and Vail.
Laguna Art Museum Executive Director Malcolm Warner welcomed guests and expressed his thanks to host families, which included Sande and Richard Schwarzstein, Mary and Joe Ferguson, Bill and Carol Hanke, Katie and Kirk Milette and Nancy Bushnell.
He also said thanks to the artists' sponsors and event sponsors and collaborators, such as Laguna Nursery, which provided the floral centerpieces, 14 Hands for the wine and the St. Regis for the raffle prize.
The Dan Rechard Trio entertained.
The soiree was an opportunity for admirers to peruse the works, buy them and applaud the award winners.
Rick Delanty was the winner of the Surfrider Foundation Award.
"Laguna Canyon is a favorite site for artists," Ferguson said.
The Outdoorpainter.com Award was presented by Vanessa Rothe, California editor of "Fine Art Connoisseur" to Gavin Brooks.
"This is an amazing event in my own hometown," said Rothe, in praise of the invitational.
Burton picked up the second of his three awards from Plein Air and Fine Art Connoisseur magazine, also presented by Rothe.
Scott Prior was the recipient of Fine Art Connoisseur Award, sponsored by the magazines.
Participating artists selected Josh Clare for the Artists Choice Award, presented by Vail.
The Randy Higbee Gallery Awards went to Burton (his third of the night), Randall Sexton, Peggy Kroll-Roberts and Hiu Lai Chong, who also won the $500 Collectors' Choice Award voted on by collectors at the soiree and presented by Warner.
"She is very popular, and she is good," said artist Thomas Jefferson Kitt.
Laura Davick presented the $500 Crystal Cove Founders Prize to Michael Obermeyer.
Frank Serrano won the $500 Southwestart Best of Quick Draw, sponsored by Southwestart Magazine and presented by Warner.
Laguna College of Art & Design Next Generation Scholarships were presented by Dominic Ietto, LCAD's vice president of development and communication, to Stephen Morrison, Lan Duong and Zoey Frank.
Yvone Boseker and her daughter, Andrea Boone, presented Jim Wodark with the $1,000 Dr. Edward H. Boseker Award.
The $2,500 Laguna Art Museum Award was presented by Warner to Debra Huse. The choice was popular. She had spent all day in a boat painting "Enchanted Kelp."
The final award was the $5,000 Laguna Beach Plein Air Painting Invitational Best in Show, sponsored by the association and presented by Stern, who was joined at the microphone by Vail and Pearson.
"This is the magical moment," said Vail, leading up to Stern's announcement of the winner, Billy O'Donnell, an East Coast artist.
Buyers included Toni and Len Woods, who only had to tote Burton's big canvas of "Laguna Canyon" across Cliff Drive to Indian Territory, the Native American shop and museum they own.
"This view has always been mystical to me, and he painted it," she said.
Stern went home with Chong's stunning "Heisler Nights."
Paintings were still wet, and buyers were advised not to touch the surfaces.
Among the guests at the soiree: Chuck James, past president of LAM. Shortly after James moved from the East Coast to Laguna, he met the Schwarzsteins, who invited him and his late wife, Marcia, to a museum event.
"I got active and the next thing I knew I was on the board," James said.
James recruited Matt and Mary Lawson as museum members.
"And he is still living it down," said Matt Lawson, who was seated with James and the Schwarzsteins at the dinner.
Also: Francine Scinto, Linda Seville, Lynn Vail, Jock Stalker, Cheryl and Laguna Chamber of Commerce President Michael Kinsman, Eric Jessen, Rick Balzar and Harry Bithell, fully recovered from chairing the Rotary's successful Classic Car Show.
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