The Laguna Beach Sawdust Festival does not in fact celebrate the shavings of trees, but the creative collection of artists who live in this half hippy, half hipster seaside town. I clarify this point because when I took three British soccer coaches visiting for the summer they thought it was a hysterical name, joking about tasting different flavors of sawdust, like at a wine festival. Perhaps you have to grow up with the Sawdust Festival to understand the rustic charm of the name, or maybe the au-natural allure is lost of 20-something English blokes.
The Sawdust was originally called the Laguna Artists and Gallery Owners Association after breaking away from the Festival of Arts in 1965, in protest of that show’s jurying system. That first festival opened with only a few dozen exhibitors. It was called the ‘Rejects Festival’ by the media. Now its prestige surpasses many a festival and more than 200 artists show and sell their wares nestled in Laguna Canyon, surrounded by mature eucalyptus trees.
Some artists have participated for 30 plus years and have the distinction of claiming the same booth site year after year. Others enter a lottery and chose their booth based on foot traffic or proximity to the band or the bar, depending on their preference. However, each year, everyone builds their booth from scratch, sharing paint, spackle and gossip with fellow artisans as they get ready for the season. The behind-the-scene is kind of like summer camp in junior high – fun, dramatic, crazy, with loads of camaraderie.
My friend Reem Khalil, a textile artist, invited me to the private opening for the Sawdust Festival held on Summer Solstice this year. She paints silk and fashions the vibrantly dyed material into gorgeous free-flowing clothing that are ready to travel and wear. Honestly once I had one of her dresses crumpled in a corner of my suitcase and hung it up in the hot shower and within ten minutes, I was clean and the dress was ready to go! Now she’s added handmade organic bamboo cotton dresses, pants and such to her repertoire.
A few years ago, I worked much of the summer in Reem’s booth and met many of the artists, such as Karen Petty a mixed medium artist who create exquisite images of the human body, Julie Sutterholm a coppersmith who makes jewelry and fantastic artworks – my favorite was a Tree Goddess stepping over a boulder called ‘Get Over it’, Greg Thorne (he reminds me of a Celtic Thor – even wears kilts sometimes) sells awesome turquoise jewelry, Missy – the faerie artist – lost one of her floral headbands at FaerieWorlds, have to say the story was worth it, Star, a face painter and painter – this year he looked like a psychedelic Willy Wonka and Mike Panetta who offered a glass of Sangria with the purchase of one of his amazing glasses (I brought mine from home and still got a splash).
The Sawdust Festival will open to the public tomorrow, June 24 and run through August 28. There’s crafts for kids (they can make ceramics or watch the glass blowers create their wares in the cage) and those ready to boogie can dance to the live music. Every year I get a new toe ring and find a new artist to admire. I never miss it.