Festival of Arts: A piano (almost) for Liberace

Of all the celebrities Jon Wyer Seeman has met, Liberace is his favorite.

The Aliso Viejo resident was showing sculptural wood furniture at the Festival of Arts in 1985 when the pianist and "his tall, blonde boyfriend" arrived at his booth.

Seeman recalls the entertainer — full name W¿adziu Valentino Liberace — being arrayed in "extravagant attire and fingers loaded with rings."

"We joked around a bit and he held out his hand — palm down — and said, 'You should design and build me a piano out of this beautiful Hawaiian Koa,'" Seeman, 62, recounted. "I replied, 'I was thinking the same thing!'"

Despite grabbing a business card on his way out, Liberace never got in touch. But even without a celebrity endorsement, Seeman has returned nearly every year to the festival. He is a man of great imagination who is devoted to developing his craft.

Having created a 14-inch-high abstract steel sculpture for the first time as a 15-year-old Laguna Beach High School student, Seeman moved on to photography in New York City. The desire to create three-dimensional artwork pulled him first toward contemporary furniture, but, eventually, artistry trumped functionality.

"The piece must have a great design," said Seeman, whose ideas have resulted in sketches, digital renderings and a 14-foot stainless-steel sculpture that will go on display this year. "It's important to me to create tension among the forms — that makes the piece more intriguing."


An invite-only show

Currently in its 81st year, the Festival of Arts brings Orange County creativity — from painters, jewelers, mixed-media artists and others — to the fore. Junior art, exhibitions and art tours are also on the roster Sunday through Aug. 31.

According to Sharbie Higuchi, director of marketing and public relations, awards abound among the exhibiting artists from Irvine, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, San Juan Capistrano, Dana Point and other cities, who will partake in a high-caliber juried show.

"Without a doubt, the stars of the Festival of Arts Fine Art Show are our 140 artists," she said. "Each artist is as unique as their artwork with an equally exceptional story to share. The quality of the artwork is impressive."

Longtime contributors, Higuchi noted, also volunteer their time for advisory committees and art workshops and serve as junior art jurors and board members.

"Our artists are very generous in giving back to an organization which gives so much to the arts," she said.

Other activities include Adult Art Workshops, an Art Talk series, a "Sunday in the Park" music series and Jazz on the Green. The festival's Acura/KOST Celebrity Benefit Concert and Pageant on Aug. 24 will be headlined by singer-songwriter James Ingram and hosted by actress Heather Locklear.

As a child, Seeman remembers his attention being drawn to striking photographs showcased at the festival.

"It's kind of funny," he said. "If I wasn't at the beach, I was around the show selling programs for 50 cents."


Lasting bonds

Seeman took the plunge in 1975 and became part of the lineup. In the 38 years since, he has missed only one summer at the festival grounds. Since this is the sole art show he participates in, the sculptor relies on it to introduce his latest pieces. He also recognizes that the venue facilitates connections with buyers who, under ordinary circumstances, he might never cross paths with.

Actress Bernadette Peters was one such example.

"I have formed lasting bonds with artists and buyers — some [of whom] I have known for more than 35 years," Seeman said. "I hope they never tire of viewing [my work] and it will be an enduring piece of art."

An artist who has definitely endured is Jacquie Moffet — a Laguna Beach resident whose work has been part of the festival's mix for 46 years.

"My parents used to bring me to see the art show and the Pageant [of the Masters] when I was just a kid," she said. "My dad liked to draw and paint and I was interested in watching him. I said, 'When I grow up, I want to show my art at the Festival of Arts,' and so it happened."

The traveling enthusiast, who often discovers ideas tucked away in her hometown's nooks and crannies, always leaves home — even for a short stroll — toting a camera.

Trees inspire her, she said, and foliage, colors and barks feature prominently in her latest watercolor paintings.

It's difficult to pick a favorite aspect of the experience, she admits, counting laughter, vibrant discussions and potlucks — where culinary handiwork offers insight into artists — among her treasured memories.

The festival is an ideal location for people watching, Moffet added. It's also home to a big family.

"We follow our kids and their experiences," she said. "Some of us have become grandparents, and we try to keep informed about artists that have moved and what they are doing."

If You Go

What: The Festival of the Arts Fine Art Show

Where: 650 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday till July 4; 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. July 5 till August 31; 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. August 25

Cost: General admission — Weekdays $7, Weekends $10; Students and seniors — Weekdays $4 and Weekends $6; Children 12 and under, military personnel and Laguna Beach residents enter free

Information: http://www.LagunaFestivalofArts.org or (949) 494-1145

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