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OUR LAGUNA:Festival holds 75th opening gala

Guests at the private opening of the Festival of Arts Saturday night were treated to a feast for all the senses — art to see, food to eat, music to hear and dance to and a welcome to warm their hearts.

“We are thrilled you are here,” festival President Anita Mangels told the throng. “You are the very first to see original art you can only see in Laguna Beach.”

The opening was special this year — the 75th anniversary of the festival.

“This was the best FOA kickoff yet,” said Matt Lawson, chair of the Design Review Task Force, who attended with his wife, Mary.


Other special events are planned to celebrate the festival’s platinum anniversary — including daily art workshops, winetastings combined with jazz concerts, Asian Arts Day, Mudslingers Day — we are talking ceramics here — the Art of Cooking Series, tea with the artists at the Ritz-Carlton and a coordinated exhibit at the Laguna Art Museum.

Guests at the opening were encouraged to visit the “Festival Explorer,” a mobile museum that features a detailed timeline illustrated by historic photographs, a pageant costume, artifacts and a video of archival footage.

The converted RV was parked at the entrance for the opening, but took to the road Monday, with a two-day stop planned for the wharf in Dana Point.

The mini-museum spent the Fourth of July at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, and returned to Laguna for the Chamber of Commerce Hometown Barbecue July 5. The journey will continue though October 2008. Admission is free.


“The Festival Explorer presents a unique opportunity to educate and showcase the rich history of the arts in Laguna Beach,” said festival Marketing and Public Relations Director Sharbie Higuchi.

“While the Festival of Arts annually draws 250,000 people to Laguna Beach each summer, this vehicle allows us to reach new audiences throughout Southern California.”

All told, a crowd of about 4,000 was expected at the opening under the eagle eyes of Detectives Ted Falencki and Debra Kelso, not to mention Exhibits and Artists Activities Director Jack Archer.

“I have worked here for 28 years,” Archer said. “I am a frustrated artist and I enjoy it.

“I started mowing lawns. That used to be how you started. About 95% of the people I work for are wonderful. The other 5% — I earn my living.”

Event and Membership Director Susan Davis also started in a less auspicious job.

“I worked in the ticket booth for $8 an hour, just to get my foot in the door,” Davis said.

“It is the best job in the world.”


Mangels commended Davis and the Preview Committee: exhibitors Barbara Hendricks, Dagmar Chaplin, Carolyn Machado and Dianne Reardon; and Rosemary Swimm, wife of exhibitor Tom Swimm; and introduced board members Wayne Baglin, Steve Dicterow, John Hoover, Pat Kollenda, Ann Webster and Fred Sattler; and Gary Fowler, who photographed the event.

Kudos also went to Higuchi and caterer Estrella Harrington, owner of ala carte.

“The food was very impressive,” said Sabra Lande, who was also impressed with the presentation.

“They really got it right this year. It was gracious and spacious — spread out with no long lines out the door and the servers all seem happy.”

Smiling, tails-clad servers circulated the grounds, carrying trays made of framed montages under glass — such a nice touch.

Many of the guests were from down the street.

Among those taking a busman’s holiday from their Sawdust booths: September McGee, with Laguna Outreach for Community Arts board member Sean McCracken and Joe Volpe in tow, Sally Wilde, Jan Sattler and city Arts Manager Sian Poeschl.

Several of the festival exhibitors also have booths at the Sawdust, including Troy Poeschl, Julita Jones and Scott Moore, who attended the private opening.


“I come from a family of colorful story tellers,” Moore said in describing his art. “My siblings and I enjoy turning a simple memory into something that seems bigger than life. Now I turn those stories into images with paint on canvas.”

Mayor Toni Iseman and Planning Commissioner Norm Grossman were among those whose attention was caught by Moore’s evocative paintings.

Another welcome sight: exhibitor Lu Campbell, who is undergoing treatment for recently diagnosed lung cancer.

“I am feeling good, I am looking good and I plan to be at my booth all this season,” said watercolorist Campbell, wife of Festival of Arts Foundation board member John Campbell.

“Painting is a joyful experience for me. I watch the shapes emerge from the paper as the painting evolves.

“In watercolor, there are often surprises — some happy, some not, but the process is always an adventure.”

In a nearby booth: courageous Anne England, the poster child for cancer recovery, is giving Campbell the benefit of her experience.

Seen circulating were exhibitor Marlo Bartels and first nighters Ernie and Councilwoman Elizabeth Schneider, Andy and City Clerk Martha Anderson, City Treasurer Laura Parisi, and Michelle and Councilman Kelly Boyd.

The councilman, who was born and raised in Laguna, appeared in the Pageant of the Masters for three years, starting when he was a lad of 6.

“I was in two Norman Rockwells, but I can’t remember the other one,” Boyd said.

Arts Commissioners Mike Tauber, Terry Smith and Nancy Beverage, former Commissioner Carole Reynolds and Design Review Board member Eve Plumb also attended.

Plumb, a painter as well as an actor, is readying for her second show at Chatham on Cape Code, set to open Aug. 2.

Seen on the grounds: architects Lance Polster and Linda Morgenlander, Jan Koelle and sons, Rice and Zeda Stone, and Suzanne and Harry Bithell.

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