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86 palettes to be discarded

Councilwoman Toni Iseman found an Arts Commission recommendation to dump 86 artist-designed holiday palettes unpalatable, fearing the loss to Laguna’s artistic heritage.

However, she voted with the rest of the council when assured the palettes had been cataloged for posterity. Artists or their families, whose addresses were known, were advised of the decision to remove the palettes from the city’s collection and given the dates of March 28 and April 11 to claim them.

“These palettes are going to be destroyed unless the artists’ families claim them,” Iseman said.

In art circles, culling unwanted or lesser art is called deaccession, often achieved by sales, the proceeds of which are used to upgrade a collection.


Iseman supported Mayor Kelly Boyd’s suggestion of offering the palettes for sale to the public. She said restoration might be possible in some cases. Iseman also made a pitch for private storage, which coincidentally the Laguna Beach Historical Society is also seeking for its artifacts.

“I hold this dear to my heart,” said Iseman, who regards the palettes as history as well as art.

“Two years ago I did the palette project [gift cards from selected palette images].” Iseman said. “In the process of making choices, I discovered documentary irregularities”

Iseman was somewhat mollified by Commission Chairwoman Pat Kollenda’s assurance that the palettes proposed for deaccession had been painstakingly cataloged.


Kollenda said two days were spent cataloging all 286 palettes currently in the city’s collection.

“Some of them cannot be repaired,” Kollenda said “They look like they were hit by a truck and other things you don’t want to hear about.”

Of the remaining 200 palettes after deaccession, about 26 will need to be repaired during the upcoming year.

The palettes are an outdoor holiday display, unique to Laguna, hung on lamp posts between Thanksgiving and New Years Day, a tradition going back decades.

Artists compete to have palettes accepted in the collection and the winners, selected by the City Council with recommendations by the Arts Commission, are awarded a cash prize — which evolved from a much humbler beginning that the city almost dumped.

Originally, the palettes were silk-screened by the late Earl Secor, a local sign painter, first in his shop and later at his Coast View home.

In about September 1978, Secor learned that someone at City Hall decided to toss the palettes and passed on the information to Michelle Purcell, a member of the Arts Commission and an Art-a-Fair exhibitor.

Secor told her he had heard that the palettes were stashed in the old city dump, but he didn’t know where the dump was.


“Michelle didn’t know either, so she asked me if the city even had a dump,” said her husband, former Police Chief Neil Purcell. “I told her no, but there was an old city dump, up Phillips Road off of Laguna Canyon Road.

“So Michelle and Earl went out to the dump and saw a couple of the palettes sticking up — half buried.

“She told me, ‘This is not good.’ ”

He took the matter to Laguna’s young city manager, Ken Frank, and told him a problem was brewing and it wasn’t going away.

“Earl was feisty, and he would take on anyone,” Purcell said.

Frank checked it out and said, “Not good.” He ordered Director of Public Works Terry Brand to send a crew to pick through the dump, retrieve what they could and deliver them to Secor.

“Michelle went out, and they recovered about a dozen palettes,” Purcell said. “She took them to the old Art-a-Fair Grounds on the corner of Laguna Canyon Road and Canyon Acres Drive.”

Purcell remembers that the palettes were cleaned and protectively coated by November, in time to hang them for the holiday season.


As a thank you, Secor painted a palette for Michele, and she later painted one when the artist-designed palette program began.

“Hers was displayed for several years,” Purcell said.

As staff liaison to the Arts Commission, Purcell pushed to have the palettes lighted.

“I wanted to make them drawing cards like the boat parades,” Purcell said.

Iseman made some of them into greeting cards.

For more information about the palettes to be discarded, call Sian Poeschl, (949) 497-0722 or email her at

BARBARA DIAMOND can be reached at (949) 380-4321 or