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Our Laguna: Festival opening draws exuberant crowd

Tough economic times. Dwindling resources. Emotional turmoil.

Sound familiar? Could be today’s headlines. They were the headlines in 1932 when local artists first showed their works on the streets of Laguna Beach, the cradle of the Festival of Arts.

In 1932, a couple dozen artists hung their paintings on fences, trees and buildings, hoping to attract buyers. Last weekend, friends and fans of the 145 artists in the nifty 2009 show, and some folks who knew the private opening was the place to be, jammed the Festival Grounds.

In the Victorian vernacular for a wildly successful event, the opening was a “crush.” An estimated 3,600 people attended the invitation-only preview.


“This is a great show this year and a great Pageant of the Masters,” said festival board member Tom Lamb, an exhibitor for 18 years. “People went the extra mile, and it shows.”

Lamb and board President Wayne Baglin welcomed the guest to the Artists Opening. Thousands will pass through the festival gates before the show closes. In 2007, more than 150,000 came to the grounds just to see the Pageant of the Masters.

The festival’s mission has never changed: “To promote, produce and sponsor events and activities that encourage the appreciation, study and performance of the arts” — not to mention sales. Proceeds from pageant ticket sales and grounds admission fund scholarships for graduating Laguna Beach High School seniors and for college students who continue to qualify, grants to arts and cultural organizations, and to provide a venue for artists can display and sell their works.

Innovations in the grounds, such as opening up the vistas giving the artists’ booths a more gracious appearance, and in operations — new events keep it lively — rejuvenate the show each year. Rigorous juries have the task of maintaining or bettering the quality of each succeeding show.


“The festival is a summertime tradition that captivates us with outstanding artwork, music and special events,” said Sharbie Higuchi, marketing and public relations director.

The Martin Derschwitz Band performed at the Artists Opening event.

Rod Pitt, who helped plan the party with Exhibits and Artists’ Activities Director Jack Archer, picked the bands.

Pitt is the right hand of Special Events Director Susan Davis, who is totally jazzed by the exhibit of Marie Antoinette costumes made of bubble wrap, plastic sheets and tubing.

The costumes, which look like they were created just for this festival season by Tim Dey and the late Jim Nussbaum, a former festival exhibitor, actually took second place at the Carnivale in Venice in 1983. The festival exhibit includes a tape of the preparations for the Carnivale.

“This just fell into my lap last week,” said Davis.

The exhibit is the perfect promotion for the first-ever competitive Festival Runway Fashion Show, scheduled for 1 to 4 p.m Aug. 1, Davis said.

All exhibitors are eligible for the show. The fashions must be constructed of 80 percent recycled or reclaimed material.


Posters of works by the late Helen Weld also are featured, on the façade and on the grounds.

“She was one of our own,” Lamb said.

Another special feature is Art-to-Go, a collection of 100 works by contributing exhibitors, to support artists who have fallen on hard times due to illness personal injury or natural disasters.

Exhibitor Hedy Buzan, who helped hang the show and its promo at City Hall, as well as donating a piece — “Red Hot Heart,” grew up on the festival grounds,

Buzan’s father was an exhibitor. She was hanging out at the festival when there was still sawdust on the grounds. She was 6 when she was first tapped for the pageant.

“I was ‘Blue Boy’ three times, and I was in ‘Crack the Whip’,” Buzan said. “Then I ushered when I was in high school, and I was awarded a festival scholarship for four years.”

However, Buzan does not hold the record for the longest exhibitor.

That honor goes to Jacquie Moffett, according to Pat Sparkuhl, an exhibitor for 30 years. “Bob Hansen and Jon Seeman also showed, I think, a couple of years before me.”


Even before he was in the festival, Sparkuhl recalled being in a show in Santa Ana with Mark Chamberlain and Jerry Burchfield, founders of BC Space Gallery, which is being honored for its influence on Southern California art by a retrospective at Cal State Fullerton’s Grand Central Art Center.

“It was always an honor to exhibit with them,” Sparkuhl said. “BC Space represented the spirit of art in Laguna.”

On the other end of the calendar are the youngsters who add vibrancy to the festival in the Junior Art Exhibit, works by 150 students from kindergarten to the 12th grade. The show is funded in part by the PIMCO Foundation.

Exhibitor Will Koffmann, who is not much older than some of the high school seniors in the junior exhibit, is a newcomer to the show, with a mixed-media technique that sets him apart.

The 20-year-old uses bleach to create images on black fabric.

The caustic chemical leaves what it touches bright, clean and disinfected, he said.

“It’s just nice clean art,” Koffmann said. “I do think the fact that my work was accepted shows the festival is opening up to a wider range of styles than ever before. A lot of the exhibitors have come up to me and indicated they were pleased to have someone so young and working in a different medium in the show.”

In fact the festival had to create the new medium category of digital art this year for Murray Kruger.

“A painter uses a brush, I use a computer to bring my concepts to reality,” Kruger said.

Visitors to the festival can learn more about Koffmann and Kruger’s techniques on the daily, free guided tours which provide an opportunity to meet the artists and learn firsthand about their work. The tours are offered at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., Monday through Friday and at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Guests at the opening included artist Mark Fleming and Community Clinic Board member Bill DeLand; Parking, Laguna Beach Heritage Committee member Tamara Campbell; Parking, Traffic and Circulation Committee member and Susi Q volunteer Vic Opincar; former Laguna Beach County Water District board member J.J. Gasparotti; artists Patricia Turnier and Leah Vasquez, former Arts Commission chairwoman; gallery owners Chamberlain and Charles Michael Murray; School Board members Ketta Brown, Betsy Jenkins and Theresa O’Hare; Laguna Community Concert Band founder Carol Reynolds; festival board members John Hoover and Anita Mangels; Insurance broker Pat Freeman, arts patron Bobbi Cox; former City Council members Cheryl Kinsman and Bobbi Minken; Laguna Beach Scholarship Foundation Past President Marge Earl; and Councilwoman Verna Rollinger.

The broad spectrum of guests lends credence to Higuchi’s contention that the festival has “Something for Everyone.”

For a detailed list of special events and general information, visit or call (949) 497-6582 or 1(800) 487-3378.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Write to Barbara Diamond, P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, 92652; call (949) 380-4321 or e-mail