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 Volume 14, Issue 96  |  December 2, 2022


Winter Fantasy: Sawdust launches holiday festival with snow, song and spirit

By THERESA KEEGAN

It was hard to tell who was more excited with the opening of the Winter Fantasy at the Sawdust Art & Craft Festival this year – the kids, the artists or the parents who were able to let their children run around with cautionary warnings of “Remember, Santa’s watching.” 

After three long years of cobbling together an event due to COVID restrictions, the excitement of being able to freely wander around fully stocked art booths, sipping beverages and listening to live music was evident during opening day of the 32nd winter festival on November 19. The event included the official lighting of the Christmas trees and melodic music performed by the Top of the World Elementary School Honor Choir.

“It’s always nice in the winter because you get the locals who don’t come in the summer,” said Marcus Thesing, glass blower and longtime exhibitor at the Sawdust. “And they tend to buy more with the holidays.” 

New faces

Also, because the winter festival is open to artists outside Laguna Beach, there are often new faces and exhibitions. This year, 165 artists offer everything from bronze doorbell covers to finely crafted jewelry and glass sculptures. 

Art exhibitions, hands-on creative opportunities, a petting zoo, community Christmas trees decorated by local groups and, of course, Santa himself, enhance the festive atmosphere. 

winter fantasy santa

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Laguna Beach Mayor Sue Kempf had a heart-to-heart with Santa during opening day festivities that included an afternoon ribbon cutting at the 32nd Annual Winter Fantasy 

Heather Reichard was so inspired by the art scene in Laguna Beach that, when she moved to California from the East Coast four years ago, instead of quitting art, she went at it with a vengeance.

“It’s just so exciting here. I can’t pass up this opportunity,” she said. Upon landing in the area, Reichard quickly went back to her chosen passion of creating whimsical scenes from vintage and forgotten items. Many reflect a homey, folksy East Coast upbringing. A potato masher that now doubles as a tree topper reminds her of her grandmother’s kitchen. Crescent-shaped bolts become moons that adorn fun night scenes.

“My works keep morphing and changing,” she said. “It blends my two loves: vintage items and bright, loud colors.” 

winter fantasy vintage

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Artist Heather Reichard, who creates art from vintage items including rulers and kitchen tools, is thrilled to participate in this year’s Winter Fantasy

After moving to the West Coast and seeing the desert for the first time, cacti started appearing in her scenes. Ocean themes are also now infiltrating her usual landscapes and the gathering of Reichard’s work on the wall at booth #603 is a fun cornucopia of intrigue and beauty. 

“It’s been a dream to be in this show,” she said, crediting the crowds and fellow artists as creating a uniquely supportive environment. “I know a lot of the folks and it’s really good people.”

winter fantasy vintage closeup

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Reichard’s whimsical art is inspired by an East Coast upbringing and focuses on family and country homes 

Glass artisans Shea Roberts and Nathan Olvera, first-time Winter Fantasy artists, are having a hard time believing they’re actually exhibiting at the festival. 

“Until the art was actually up it just didn’t feel real,” said Roberts. She spent the night before the November 19 opening day painting their names on the walls of booth #234. Her stained-glass pieces – ranging from intricate astronauts to flowing jellyfish and even wildflower scenes – are neatly propped along the shelves. On the opposite side, Olvera has a variety of glass bowls and sculptures neatly displayed, as well as a bowl filled with colorful hand-blown glass balls. As a 2020 college graduate, he’s had plenty of COVID-era struggles, but since connecting with established glass blowers, including Thesing, it’s been easier to pursue his craft and find time in a glass studio. He looks forward to his scheduled demonstrations at the festival – in addition to thrilling passersby with the wonder of his craft, it’s also the warmest spot to be, should the nights get cold, he laughed.

winter fantasy glass balls

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The hand-crafted artwork of glass blower Nathan Olvera is available for purchase. This is the first year he is exhibiting at the festival. 

Roberts, who works mainly on commission pieces and portraits, is thrilled to move her artwork from her parents’ garage to the Sawdust Festival. 

“I can really collaborate with clients,” she said, and on opening night, already had one piece commissioned to create a lava lamp sculpture with whales. “It’s just so amazing to connect with potential customers.”

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The diversity of art found throughout the festival is always intriguing, with fun, elegant, charming and insightful items found whichever way you turn. But at Adrian Wrzesniewski’s booth, a piece of history is seen in the making. An expert in pysanka, the Ukrainian art of decorating eggs, she painstakingly and lovingly drips wax on the white orbs, creating a relief pattern that will go through multiple permutations to create the popular eight-sided star design. 

winter fantasty egg lady

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Photo by Theresa Keegan

The Ukrainian art of coloring eggs is demonstrated by artist Adrian Wrzesniewski at Winter Fantasy. Because of the war, people have a new interest in the country’s heritage, she said. 

“I love teaching people about the (Ukrainian) culture,” she said. She has been creating the eggs since age 6, learning the art at the hands of her mother, also an artist who was born in Ukraine and then moved to Toronto. “She wanted to show me the different ways of doing things,” Wrzesniewski explained. “I like the eggs and the embroidery from Ukraine.”

She wasn’t as thrilled with the woodcutting and tole painting lessons her mother also shared, but throughout all the lessons, a love of the country was embraced. As war has broken out and the country has been in the news, Wrzesniewski sees a new interest in her pieces and the heritage they reflect.

winter fantasy egg closeup

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Photo by Theresa Keegan

Ukrainian colored eggs, created with a detailed wax removal technique, make colorful tree ornaments 

 “People are now relating to Ukraine as an actual country,” she said. “Our culture has been around for generations and it’s important to keep it alive – especially now.” There are a variety of myths and stories surrounding the brilliant hallowed eggs and the symbolism they represent, but at Winter Fantasy, most seem happy to use them as Christmas ornaments, often choosing a decoration that appeals to their aesthetic style, more than their historical meanings. 

“Eggs are believed to have mystical powers,” explained Wrzesniewski, “You drew your desires onto the egg to manifest them.” 

A few booths away artists Nick Flores and Kate Cleaves quickly attest to the positive spirit that is found at the Sawdust Festival. 

“We live in Laguna because she (Kate) fell in love with this art show,” said Flores. Their mixed booth includes his photography, her winged spritely fairies – also known as spirit totems – and even collages they work on together, with photos and original art blended together. 

winter fantasy fairies

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Artist Kate Cleaves’ winged fairies hang from above at booth #413

 “The spirit totems help you connect with love and empowerment,” said Flores. Along with the other art, they create a medley of wonder for people who wander into booth #413, with their work hanging from above, on the walls and placed on shelves. 

The two know it’s a lot of work to commit to exhibiting at the winter festival, but they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. 

“You hustle to get here and make it happen,” said Flores, “But once you’re here, the joy just happens. The Sawdust is a magical place to be.” 

Winter Fantasy at the Sawdust Art & Craft Festival grounds runs Saturdays and Sundays through December 18, from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. It will also be open Friday, Nov. 25 and Dec. 18. Admission is adults $10, seniors $7, children 6-12 $5, five and under are free. There are daily visits with Santa and for a line-up of musical performances on the three stages, click here.

For more photos by Mary Hurlbut, go to the slideshow below:

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