My Experience At Sawdust 2016

I have lived in Southern California all my life. I go to the beach maybe once a year, and I enjoy it every time. Though the sunburns that often come with it are killer, the sand, the cool air, the often frigid water that washes and crashes to shore with every wave is splendid. The views are (naturally) to die for. However, there is of course a community and gems beyond the beaches. This year is the 50th anniversary of the Sawdust Festival, an event centered around celebrating local artists, giving them a market for their wares and a place to connect with other local artists. My girlfriend described it to me as not a place to make a lot of money, but a place to show what you can do and make connections with fellow artists.

Until last year, I had never really heard of it. This year, I finally went.

It was magical. I don’t have many photos for two reasons: 1) I was trying to soak up the moment as much as possible, and 2) you have to ask permission to take photos of the artist's’ work, many of whom had signs asking you not to take photographs. Of course, there are people who take pictures anyway despite the request not to do so, but I was mostly too busy jumping from booth to booth, enveloped in the unique works around every corner.

The Sawdust Festival is located in Laguna Beach, California, right off of Pacific Coast Highway. Classic Cali, cruising down PCH (or the 1 freeway) up and down the coast. Therefore, it’s only natural that there are your fair share of beach-type fare, from Hawaiian style shirts to painting after painting after photograph of sweeping seascapes. I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of wares, from acrylic and oil paintings, photography, and etching-style prints to ceramic dishes, hand knit sweaters and jewelry. One of the most popular things at the festival is their live glass-blowing demonstrations throughout the day. Of course, we took the opportunity to sit and  watch a vase be created for what was likely a half an hour.

However, there was nothing more pleasant and surprising to my sleepy, young mind than how friendly and warm each person was at each booth. Even if you didn’t step inside, everyone was warm, welcoming, and asked how you were doing. I’m sure part of it was boredom, for they had more than likely been sitting at these booths for hours every day for weeks of this summer. I was more than happy to oblige, but it caught me off guard.

Typically, when you are shopping for one thing or another at the mall, there are people checking in on you in stores who maybe might help you find things. I prefer to go at it alone and find things on my own. I can be pretty particular. At Sawdust, you are of course allowed to take in and experience each work for yourself. Often, though, the artist is standing there, happy to tell you about how they got that image or why they chose those colors. They are eager to explain their process and to show you as much as they can.

One man’s stall was covered in incredible landscape paintings of various sizes, but what seems to have drawn me into most of the booths throughout the afternoon were relatively small works. This man, for example, had a table of row after row of small canvases that I looked over meticulously for twenty minutes (at least!). While I perused, he told me about how he had been painting for almost half a century; that means he has been painting something every single day since before I was born. He explained to me the color coding system on the wrapping of each canvas that told him where each piece was painted. Also, he had tearable puns to take with you, so that was a plus. When I finally picked a piece (which was a really difficult decision far too influenced by money), he made sure to write my name on the receipt so he remembered who had bought the piece. I was the person with whom his work would now be making a home.

At another booth, an elderly Chinese woman was selling works with Chinese characters on them that I — naturally — cannot read. She not only complimented me on my cheerful disposition and which of her works I chose to purchase, but translated the phrase on the painting and what it would mean. In connection with what the work said, she made me promise her that I would stay tough when life got hard, and left happy with the thought that I could overcome all of my challenges.

Who could say, on any other day, to have such fleeting yet wonderful moments in their life? And now I can associate this day, these memories with an object (or four, oops). It was a momentous day. It made me realize how disconnected we often can be from that on which we spend our time and our money. These people, the artists or their advocates, have so much of their heart and soul put into each work. They are connected to it, and now I am connected to them by owning this piece. It was a beautiful experience, and I can’t wait to return very soon.

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