Youthful Designers Add Talents to Strawberry Festival Offerings

Izod has its alligator, Ralph Lauren has his polo player and now Elizabeth Guzman has her three smiling strawberries.

And although her designs will not be found on the runways of Paris or the boutiques of New York, a limited amount will be available in Oxnard.

Eleven-year-old Guzman of Lemonwood Elementary School is the artistic talent behind the new Strawberry Festival youth T-shirts that will go on sale Monday at Pelican Clothing Co. The sixth-grader's design, which features three happy berries, was chosen from more than 170 entries as the official shirt artwork for the seventh annual festival on May 19 and 20.

"Last year the youth T-shirt sold out on the first day of the event," said Bill Garlock, festival manager. "So this year we will sell a limited number of shirts and other souvenirs prior to the event so that local residents can have a chance to buy what they want."

In addition to the youth shirts in small sizes ($10), a few in adult sizes will be sold this year for the first time. The adult shirts, with a picture of this year's festival postera crystal dish filled with strawberriescosts $12. Some new items include suspenders with "California Strawberry Festival 1990" stitched on ($15) and sun visors ($7).

The store at Channel Islands Harbor was chosen as the exclusive distributor of the items because it is situated at the festival site and "we want people to get acquainted with this area," Garlock said.

Originally, the youth T-shirts were designed by commercial artists. But last year, festival organizers decided to give area school children a chance.

"With an event that is growing in notoriety as quickly as the Strawberry Festival, it's important to make that extra effort to embrace the people in the area because, after all, this is their celebration. And what better way to pull in the community than to have the children play an important role in the event?"

The idea for a contest came "pretty late in the game" last year, Garlock said. "I quickly scribbled down my thoughts on a napkin, gave it to my secretary and she made some phone calls."

Although the contest wasn't as organized as Garlock said he would have liked, it was a success. The winning design by Sonia Lopez, then a third-grader at Mar Vista Elementary School, was so well received that the 300 youth shirts sold "much better than any of the commercial shirts ever did," Garlock said.

This year 700 shirts will be printed and Sue Odgers, one of the four contest judges, said she expects them to sell out as well. There were more than twice as many design entries this year, and Odgers said there was something for everyone; from strawberry people to a big, red strawberry riding his surfboard.

Designs are judged on originality, adaptability to printing on T-shirts, color and use of the strawberry theme. "But we also looked for that childlike quality," Odgers said.

In last year's design, "strawberry" was spelled "straberry" and a "w" was later added, with an arrow pointing to where it should go.

"I forgot the 'w' at first so the picture came out wrong, but I guess people liked it," Sonia said.

And though she enjoyed the experience, she did find it difficult working with water colors.

"It was hard to keep all the different colors from getting mixed up."

That particular medium was chosen because "Children love bold, bright colors," said Millie Downing, Lopez's former teacher. "The other reason is that children at this age need help learning how to draw things, including strawberries. I know how to make a strawberry using oils, so I was hoping the technique would transfer over. We had two practice sessions in making berries. And then on the third day I gave them a blank sheet of paper and we did our designs."

Some pictures came out looking more like strawberries than others, Downing said. "But we didn't stress the competition. What we concentrated on was that every student who entered got a free ticket to the strawberry festival just for trying. Everyone was a winner and everyone had fun."

Lopez's teacher, Elva Perez, said her students also enjoyed the contest. "Many of them related particularly well with the strawberry theme because their parents work in the fields picking them. The sights and smells of strawberries are a part of their lives."

The contest gives students an opportunity to feel they are an important part of the community, and it also unites the school, said Carolyn Banks, principal at Lemonwood. "Ever since Elizabeth won this year, our entire school has been basking in the glow. Also, the contest provides an opportunity for students to shine in other areas besides academics. And it shows that hard work leads to rewards and payoffs."

Elizabeth credits her achievement to hard work. "I wanted to win this contest with all my heart," she said. "So I kept working and working, trying to make my design better and better. That's how I won.

"I like contests because they make me do my best and I like that. I want to be a success."

Always interested in art, Guzman has been inspired by her accomplishments to pursue it further. But she isn't at all interested in pursuing fashion design.

Calvin Klein can sleep soundly tonight.

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