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Festival’s ‘family’ gathers to mourn

Candles glowed in the soft summer dark, wine glasses clinked, a few tears were shed and a lot of laughs were shared as the Festival of Arts “family” saluted colleagues and dear friends who died this past year.

More than 100 folks gathered Wednesday night on the Festival Grounds for a candlelight vigil in remembrance of longtime festival board member David Young; staff members Lyle Brooks, Lowell E. Harris and Mary Post; and artists Brian Day, Vincent Farrell, Mia Krantz, James Nussbaum, Suzanne Pitts, Tat Shinno and Robert McDowell Gentry — not the former mayor.

Festival board member Tom Lamb set the tone for the evening: “Let us remember the good times,” he said.

Jacquie Moffett, who has the record as the longest exhibitor, recalled starting out as rookies with Jim Nussbaum, and like all newcomers being assigned to a booth along the front fence.

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The prize-winning Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette costumes Nussbaum and actor Tim Dey created for the Venetian Carnivale from bubble wrap and plastic tubing are on display at the festival this year.

Nussbaum exhibited at the festival from 1968 to 2002. He first sold op art-style acrylic paintings before discovering his true métier — painting on silk, creating works admired in the worlds of art and fashion.

“I bought one of his silk scarves at the annual auction, all the more cherished now — so remember that at the next auction,” said board member Anita Mangles, reflecting on the fragility of life.

Mangels represented the Pageant of the Masters crew and performers, who were unable to attend the vigil because the show had already started.

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“These people [being remembered] made a difference,” she said. “They touched our lives.”

Charlotte Takahashi taught with Tat Shinno at Valencia Elementary School for about 12 years, and they attended musical performances together.

“We were good friends for more than 20 years,” she said. “She had such a zest for living.”

Shinno was quoted at 91 saying, “Retirement is not in my awareness.”

The Newport Beach watercolorist began exhibiting at the festival in 1986. She was described by friend and exhibitor Bruce Burr as a force of nature.

Exhibitor Hedy Buzan, who grew up on the Festival Grounds and had known Young since childhood, said he was not happy when she was appointed to the board.

“He didn’t like that; he thought the board should be elected,” Buzan said.

But they became allies when there was a push to move the festival out of town and consideration of franchising the pageant in Las Vegas, which they both opposed.

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After considerable pressure, Buzan suggested that maybe they might want to be more open-minded about the Vegas proposal, which was described as a money-maker.

“He said, ‘Hedy, you don’t go to Vegas to make money, you go there to loose money,’ Buzan recounted.

The Robert Gentry remembered at the vigil is a prize example of why reporters ask nosy questions like your middle name and age — without the middle name, we’d have people thinking the former City Councilman Bob Gentry had died this past year.

The artist exhibited at the festival for 12 years, ending in 1980. He was known for generosity, to friends and fellow artists.

Emily Quilter considered David and the late Mary Young her third grandparents. They lived near the Emerald Bay home of her paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Quilter.

“When my mother got exasperated with me and Gr’nma Whiz was too busy to take me, she would dump me at the Youngs,” Emily Quilter said. They were David and Mary to the youngster, but he always greeted her as Miss Quilter.

“The thing I remember most was that he lost one of his children in an automobile accident and he changed his birthday [celebration] from July to Dec. 26, his son’s birthday,” Emily Quilter said. “I have been going to the Young’s home for great parties on Dec. 26 for most of my 29 years. This will be the first year I will have no place to go.”

Barbara Painter said once you were invited you were expected to show up for every party after that.

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Mary Church, local photographer and massage therapist at the Montage Resort & Spa told about meeting Brian Day on a four-day photography trip to Death Valley, organized a few years ago by festival exhibitor Bob Hansen.

Day was an award-winning photojournalist, who was juried into the festival in 2006 and 2007.

Church was accompanied to the vigil by Lagunans Yvonne Medkiff, Jayamala Sargent, Suzanne De Franco, Merritt Weiss, Peggy Mathis, Dr. Joshua Bogart and Chris Loidolt, Montage Business Center manager and a leader of the Hearts of Montage board member.

Jackie Johnson, a Laguna Beach resident, attended the vigil to honor her good friend Vincent Farrell. The longtime festival exhibitor described himself as colorist during his 27 years run on the grounds. He first exhibited in 1966.

Artist and former exhibitor Vincent Hallinan said of Farrell, “He was part of a true original group. They lived hard and painted hard. I always admired the way he lived in the moment.”

Marilyn Wood, who began ushering at the pageant in 1960 and now heads the troupe, was particularly touched by the death of Lyle Brooks, a pageant sculptor since 1983. Brooks died suddenly a few weeks before the festival opened. He was 49. He was a storehouse of artistic trivia gleaned from his research for his work as a sculptor, his photography and his watercolors. He was especially gifted when it came to architectural detailing, staff said.

Exhibitor Anne England paid tribute to Lowell E. Harris, who retired last year after serving as director of security since 1981. He was honored as a Festival Life Member in 1995.

Suzanne Pitts fused her love of dance and photography into award-winning images. Staff said she would be remembered for her gentle and generous spirit.

Post also will be remembered for her sweet personality. She was a staff member in the public relations department from 1988 to 1999, when she began to volunteer backstage, doing whatever needed to be done, cheerfully. She brought goodies for co-workers and a sense of humor and smile that was equally appreciated.

Sculptor Mia Krantz and her husband, the late Robert Krantz, first exhibited at the festival in 1966 after moving from Chicago with their five children to Laguna. She died last summer just before her 85th birthday. Krantz was quoted as saying, “Since my entire experience as a professional artist has come about at a result of my being an exhibitor at the Festival of Arts, that makes me a true child of the festival.”

If Krantz was a child of the festival, those who gathered Wednesday considered themselves her family.

“What we have here is a family,” said exhibitor Randy Bader. “These are the people we can depend on. So my hip, hip hooray is for all of you for what you have done.”

Exhibitor Carolyn Reynolds said, while watching the vigil, “That is what this place is all about.”

Among the crowd: Arts Commissioner Pat Kollenda, who ditched a dress rehearsal of “Millie” to attend the vigil; festival Marketing and Public Relations Drector Sharbie Higuchi, festival Events Director Susan Davis, exhibitor Julita Jones, former festival board member John Hoover, former Arts Commissioner Mike Tauber, and Nancy Schipper, who has worked in exhibitor John Tolle’s booth for 29 years.


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 email coastlinepilot@latimes.com


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