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Calendar >  Weekend in Laguna Beach – The Sawdust Festival – The Pageant of the Masters

Weekend in Laguna Beach – The Sawdust Festival – The Pageant of the Masters

By   /  August 24, 2015  /  No Comments




Travels With TR

A Weekend in Laguna Beach – The Sawdust Festival – The Pageant of the Masters

TR Robertson

TR Robertson

One hour, up the coast, located halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles, is the seaside village of Laguna Beach. With a population just over 23,000, 7 miles of coastline, 20 coves and sandy beaches, this popular town has become Southern California’s artistic center. Laguna Beach was founded in 1887 and incorporated in 1927. San Diego County has its own beach towns that have become popular destinations for many people, especially those from Los Angeles. A trip to Laguna Beach offers a different view of a coastal town, especially one that has brought in unique events during the summer months. The town was also the recipient of 2013’s Trip Advisor Travelers Choices Beaches award, honoring the top beaches around the world. There are lots of walkways and parks that are along the coast line.

Photos by Carolyn Robertson

Downtown Laguna Beach offers many of the same type of businesses the coastal communities of San Diego offer. Lots of tourist shops, clothing stores, jewelry stores, great restaurants and bars can be found; but the stand out business in the town is the numerous art galleries. The beauty of the coastline, coves and beaches, and the wilderness area located a short drive up the canyon have drawn hundreds of artists that work in a multitude of media. One of the most prominent and well-known artists is Robert Wyland, the marine life artist, who owns a studio and home in downtown Laguna Beach on Coast Highway. Wyland not only paints amazing paintings of marine life, but he also make beautiful furniture incorporating marine life into the bases. He got his start in the 1980’s painting life sized whales on the sides of buildings.

One of the most prominent historical citizens of Laguna Beach was the Danish vagabond Eiler Larsen, also known as The Greeter of Laguna Beach. Larsen arrived in Laguna Beach in the 1930’s and beginning in 1938 played Judas in the painting “The Last Supper” for the Pageant of the Masters. Larsen was known for standing on the corner in downtown Laguna Beach and yelling out at the cars as they passed, “Halloo-oo-oo. How ar-r-r-re you?” He became so popular that in 1964 he was declared the official greeter of Laguna Beach. He was given a rent free room and meals by the townspeople.  Larsen died on March 19, 1975. Since his death, several others have tried to carry on his legacy, but none can match the enthusiasm Larsen brought to his “official” job. As fate would have it, being the artistic community Laguna Beach is, several commemoration pieces have been made of him. These include a painted cement casting by Charles Beauvais in 1960 and in 1986 a life sized redwood carving by Guy Angelo Wilson on the downtown corner where Larsen used to stand. Every day visitors can be seen getting their picture taken by these two artistic works.

But other than the sun and sand, one of the other reasons visitors come to Laguna Beach is to take in the Pageant of the Master’s program, the Sawdust Art Festival and the Art-A-Fair juried art show that runs throughout the summer months. Thousands of tourists pour into Laguna Beach each day to wander the walkways and shops of hundreds of artists displaying and selling their work and for those lucky enough to get tickets to the sold-out Pageant, witness “living picture” representations of oil paintings, sculptures, statues, lithographs, fountains, and other artistic creations. This takes place in the Irvine Bowl.

The first Pageant was held in 1932 and was a parade named, “Spirit of the Masters”. The parade was to raise awareness for the Festival of Arts, where local artists displayed their work. This was also a way to attract travelers to Laguna Beach who were visiting for the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. The second year the Pageant began to show “Living Pictures”, added by Lolita Perine, an artist and vaudevillian. That Pageant would run for 8 days. Today there will be 54 performances of the program. The event has only been rained out twice since 1933. Only one “Living Picture” has ever received a standing ovation, Felix de Weldon’s “U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial” rendering.  For 79 of the 82 years the Pageant has been shown it has closed the performance with Leonardo’s “Last Supper”. Throughout the program a narrator explains significant details about the artists and the works being shown. Richard Doyle has been the narrator for the Pageant for the last 5 years.

Each year the Pageant has a theme. For the past 20 years, since 1995, the Pageant director/producer has been Diane Challis Davy. Her first Pageant theme was “Act One theme: American Art”. This year’s theme was “The Pursuit of Happiness”. Work begins on the theme for the following year in September, the month immediately following the Pageants end. This year’s 90 minute program opened with the portrayal of Winslow Homer’s oil painting “The Country School”. It began with a large cell phone shown at the top of the stage on video, the cell phone would explode and the lights would come on the “Living Picture” of a classroom scene from the 1800’s with young children in a one room school writing on slate. The young actors would wave to the audience at their part of the show ended and some young school children would run across the front of the stage.  Effective use of lighting techniques make it nearly impossible to see you are actually looking at a 3D representation of the painting using live actors and actresses. As the paintings are removed and the scene changes you get a momentary chance to glimpse how the actors were placed in the set. Also featured in this year’s program were lithographs from Currier & Ives, Paintings that were featured in “The Saturday Evening Post” by Norman Rockwell, Bronze sculptures by Cyrus Dallin and an amazing series of bronze sculptures that are in the U.S. Capitol Statuary Hall – Shoshone Chief Washakie by Dave McGary, Frederick Douglass by Steven Weitzman, Esther Hobart Morris by Avard Fairbanks, and King Kamehameha I by Thomas R. Gould. These were shown at the same time and also included an amazing recreation of George Washington on his horse by Jean-Antoine Houdon. The original piece is in marble. Along with this a “live” actor, portraying George on his famous white horse, road into the bowl by the front of the stage. The second half of the show featured portrayals of woodblock prints by Japanese artist Chikanobu, porcelain figurines by Sevres, bronze statues by Harriet Frishmuth. The performance concluded with three unusual artistic creations Dogon Dancers of Mali, the Venice Bell in bronze from 1497 and the show ended with Leonardo’s “The Last Supper” painted over a three year period, 1495-1498, tempera on plaster. Many of the works of art portrayals take place on the stage, but several are featured on a stage set-up on a small hill on the right of the audience, others take place in a rotating Greek column stage and on a hill on the left side of the audience. Some special effect take place on the walls surrounding the stage.

The Pageant of the Masters uses 450 volunteers and a staff of 50. Two groups of 150 rotate each week for the performances. 1,200 people tried out to take part in the Pageant. Participants are selected based on height, shape and size as needed for the selected art work chosen to be in the event for that year. Participants must be able to hold their pose for 90 seconds. Make-up artists spend hours each day getting each cast member ready to look exactly like the person they will be portraying from whatever the media is the art work was done. From a short distance you cannot tell these are “live” actors and actresses and not the actual art piece. Prices for tickets range from $60 – $300, depending on location in the bowl. Go to www.pageantofthemasters.com for more details.

The other part of the Laguna Beach summer presentation is a multi-faceted art show. The Sawdust Art Festival is in its 49th year. Each day in the summer, until August 30th, the Sawdust Festival opens at 10 am and closes at 10 pm. Local artists, around 200 of them, show and sell wood, metal, glass, photography, jewelry, paintings, clothing, ceramics and textiles. This event began in 1966. The Sawdust Festival, so called because you walk on the 3 acre eucalyptus grove grounds on sawdust, costs $8.50 to get in. Military and veterans and their families are admitted free of charge. Also located in the Sawdust Festival is the Sawdust Saloon, Tacos Durrell (Home of the Meatball Tacos), and Thasos Greek Island Grill and other eateries.

Another art show that takes place is the Art-A-Fair begun in 1967. This is a juried art show featuring 140 artists. Cost for entrance to this show is $4.50, but if you have tickets to the Pageant you get in free. Just inside of the new façade and entryway for the Festival other artists work is featured. You can wander up and down aisles viewing the different artists, try and get a table and chairs to listen to featured groups performing as you wait for the doors to open into the Irvine Bowl. Several other restaurants are nearby. In the Art-A-Fair is Tivoli Too and in the Festival ground is the Tivoli Restaurant.

Art abounds throughout Laguna Canyon during the summer. Some will be very conventional and some will be very, very abstract made out of anything imaginable. Also offered are a variety of art classes and demonstrations throughout the summer. The Festival program lists all that is open to the public and how to sign-up.

One of the outcomes of seeing this event, whether it be the Art Festival or the Pageant, is the increased interest people walk away with about art in all forms. Encouraging people to attend art museums and live theater is also an additional outcome of attending this event.

There are numerous ways to see what Laguna Beach has to offer. Some make it a day trip and drive up. Parking is a bit of a problem and can get expensive in Laguna Beach. We booked a hotel for the night and got around by taking the free shuttle service that is easy to use and takes you all over Laguna Beach and directly to the entrance of the Festival and Sawdust Festival. A little internet searching can find you reasonable hotel rooms in Laguna Beach. Several years ago we took a Day Tripper bus trip to the Art Festival and Pageant. We had good seats and hopped right on the bus at the end of the show for a quick ride home.

There are lots of fascinating coastal cities in California. Laguna Beach offers some unique activities and should be included on your must see lists of places to visit in California.




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