Hansen: Laguna lives defined by a sense of place

February 27, 2014|By Dave Hansen
  • Artist Gretchen Shannon with one of six "visual narrative" panels that will be display March 28 at the Laguna Beach Community and Susi Q Senior Center.
Artist Gretchen Shannon with one of six "visual… (David Hansen, Coastline…)

The love stories started with children.

It was one year ago when artist Gretchen Shannon walked into the Laguna Beach Youth Shelter and asked teenagers to tell their stories through art.

They did not speak about pain or heartache or lost families. Instead, they spoke about love and hope.

"Every time I go in there, a lot of the kids have just arrived, and they're in crisis, and they are shut down," Shannon said.

But when she hands out supplies — scraps of paper, buttons, things discarded — the youths identify and open up.

"It's always the same; it's love and hope. They put that in everything," she said. "They just went to town and really got very expressive. It's really wonderful."

Shannon decided to expand the visual storytelling program and offer it to a broader audience. So she approached the Laguna Outreach for Community Arts, which gave her a grant. During the past year, she has been working with the Laguna Beach Community and Susi Q Senior Center, and beginning March 28, the project will have its first exhibition.


In addition to the stories by the teens, the artwork includes seven stories from Laguna Beach senior women.

"I asked each person to tell their story of how they got here and what they thought of Laguna Beach, and it turned into love stories," Shannon said. "There were a lot of dreams of living in Laguna Beach from humble beginnings. And they ended up here, which I thought was amazing. They were great stories."

Shannon will display large panels along with a book of the compiled stories complete with a touch of visual art. One compelling story comes from Bobbie Clement, who described parents migrating from a cotton farm in Louisiana.

"In the 1930s, my parents' family were sharecroppers on a farm in Shreveport, La.," Clement wrote. "My folks were cotton pickers, working hard from before dawn to dusk, eking out a meager wage that barely supported their family."

They moved to California in 1940, when Clement was only 18 months old, and stayed in "an abandoned, ramshackle old tire garage on East Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles."

"The building was one large area with no bathroom, no windows, no heating source and minimal electricity," Clement said. "The Red Car railroad tracks were only a few yards away. The noise rattled the old building day and night."

A large pot at the end of the bed was used at night for a toilet.

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