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Anything goes at Sawdust

A Laguna Beach address is the credential needed for non-juried show where 'you never know what you will find.'

June 26, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Fine artist Deborah Paswaters paints on the body of Ruth Dormeier during a live art presentation in her booth during 2013 Sawdust Art Festival Preview Night on Tuesday.
Fine artist Deborah Paswaters paints on the body of Ruth… (Don Leach, Coastline…)

Nikki Grant never imagined being able to make a living as an artist.

That changed in 1966, though, when the jewelry designer joined a cluster of Laguna Beach artists who either didn't make it into the Festival of Arts or objected to its jury system.

All free spirits, they didn't take kindly to rules or politics, she said. And the Sawdust Art Festival was born.

"Initially, it was an experiment, but it just kept going and going and going," said Grant, who hasn't missed a single show in the festival's 47-year history. Her affordably priced concoctions comprise colorful beads and twisted and hammered wire, and reflect a keen eye for detail.

As a nonprofit, Sawdust has to follow a set of guidelines — for instance, the height of its artists' booths — but has retained an attribute that generates pride among its pioneers.

"There's no jury system — no one can tell you if your stuff is good enough," said Grant, 67. "Anyone who wants to be in the festival and lives in Laguna Beach can do it."

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According to Marketing and PR Director Cynthia Fung, more than 200 local artists — photographers, painters, sculptors, jewelers and more — highlight the diversity that is synonymous with Sawdust.

"All of the artwork on the grounds is unique and handmade by Laguna Beach artists," she said. "Since we are a non-juried show, you never know what you will find on the grounds."

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'The basic foundation of Laguna'

Larry Gill, who was first exposed to the dynamics of Sawdust as a booth builder, voiced his agreement, praising the festival's exclusivity.

"Sawdust represents a demographic that is the basic foundation of Laguna," he said.

The 67-year-old sculptor, who began showing at Sawdust in the early 70s but then took a break till 1995, believes that this is the only festival that reflects an accurate cross-section of Laguna Beach.

In its early years, he recalls a "counterculture" being prevalent at Sawdust, making him wonder if the city would allow the festival to reopen each year.

In the years since, it has become a Laguna Beach institution, he said.

Fung also said an "enchanting outdoor eucalyptus setting" in Laguna Canyon provides the ideal backdrop for live entertainment, artist demonstrations and workshops. Refreshments are offered at the Sawdust Saloon, while Subaru serves as the festival's new title sponsor.

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