The Art of Gifting

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With an abundance of paintings, sculptures, ceramics and other creative pieces, Laguna has myriad options for choosing a one-of-a-kind present your loved one will cherish. Here, local experts offer insight on gifting art for the holidays.


Personal Selection

Avran Art & Design gallery owner Marta Juhasz | Photo courtesy of Avran Art & Design
Avran Art & Design gallery owner Marta Juhasz | Photo courtesy of Avran Art & Design

Choosing a piece for someone else can seem a daunting task since individual taste is so varied, but there are ways to narrow down the options. A person’s hobbies might provide clues as to the kind of painting they would enjoy: An avid boater might revel in a seascape while a hiker might prefer a mountain scene. “Buying art is very personal, so … it’s best to know who you’re buying for quite well,”Laguna Beach painter Vanessa Rothe says.

An easy way to ascertain the type of art someone likes is to peek at their current collection—if they have one—or how they decorate their space. “Usually people surround themselves … with things they love,” Vanessa says. “You can deduce a lot by going to see … what’s on their walls already.”

If you’re buying for an art connoisseur—for example, someone who collects California landscape paintings—expert assistance might be required. “I would, in that case, hire an adviser,” Vanessa says. “There are many out there. You can ask the museums, you can ask me.” Some information can also be found by searching on websites like, she suggests.

Marta Juhasz, owner and director of the contemporary Avran Art & Design gallery, says someone with an existing collection actually makes the process simpler. “[If they are] a glass sculpture collector, … you already know that they would love to have another glass art piece and then we have an expert to help you [figure out] what type of glass they are collecting.”

When you’re unsure what a friend or family member would like, Marta suggests abstract art could be the answer—a canvas with broad swaths of colors can be interpreted in a multitude of ways. “If you look at this abstract piece, this is anything that you want [it to be],” Marta says. “Some people can look at abstract art forever and see waves and mountains and clouds before a storm.”

A sure way to know that a person will love the selection is to go to a gallery with them, then sneak back later to buy the one they admire. “You really should do your research if you’re going to [give art to] your husband or wife or best friend because if they know you got something that they want, it means more,” Vanessa says. “… Have a date night at [First Thursdays] Art Walk. Get some wine, sit on the beach and go, ‘Oh, by the way, we’re going to go see some art.’ ”

Roberta Haltom, director of The Redfern Gallery, says couples often come into The Redfern Gallery together. “One [time] that was kind of fun, the husband came in and he asked me to hold a painting that his wife liked and she came in and asked me to hold a painting that he liked,” she recalls. “So for the same holiday, they exchanged paintings.”


Sizing up the Situation

When selecting an art gift, think about the person’s current collection and how his or her home is decorated. | Photo by Jody Tiongco
When selecting an art gift, think about the person’s current collection and how his or her home is decorated. | Photo by Jody Tiongco

Aside from personal preference for florals or modern designs, the recipient’s space for displaying a piece must also be considered. “You should follow them around and see what moves them, see what they like and then think about if they have room for it or how they can use it,” Vanessa says.

For example, they would need a large, unoccupied wall to hang an expansive painting or a nook where a sculpture would fit. The home’s style also plays a role: A contemporary piece might feel out of place in a beach cottage or Tuscan villa, for example. If you can’t visualize the artwork in their home, or you don’t have enough information to make a good decision, Vanessa suggests it might be best to choose a piece that’s more utilitarian, like a ceramic mug or a vase.

When opting for a vase, Marta advises to make sure the recipient knows it’s an artist’s original, handmade piece and not a mass-produced one. “Of course, if it’s an original artist’s piece, it’s signed and you have a certificate with it,” Marta says. “Don’t forget to include the certificate of authenticity if it’s an individual art piece.”

Price point is also key when selecting art as a gift—it might be inappropriate to go overboard for a mere acquaintance, or spend too little on a close friend or relative. But ultimately, the amount spent depends on how much a person can afford and, luckily, Laguna offers plenty of options across the spectrum.

In either case—but especially if you’re making a more significant investment—remember to check the gallery’s return policy in case the recipient doesn’t embrace the piece the way you thought they would. “Find out the details before and make sure you have everything in writing also because they can change their mind [or] someone else can be working at the gallery,” Vanessa says.

When it comes to actually presenting the gift, this can take some strategy, particularly when an art piece is large or unwieldy. Roberta suggests working with the gallery to arrange a covert delivery. “You have to be discreet as far as shipping or calling and leaving messages, anything like that,” Roberta says. “… Sometimes I’ve wrapped up big pieces and driven them up to their homes. … It’s a lot of fun, actually.”


Mapping Out a Plan

“Lupine and Eucalpytus” by Gregory Hull, The Redfern Gallery
“Lupine and Eucalpytus” by Gregory Hull, The Redfern Gallery

With so many places to browse in Laguna, it may take some navigating to figure out where to start your search for the perfect piece. “In our city, we offer a wide variety of representational art, all the way to the most contemporary art,” Marta says. “… This city has a full variety of arts and also price-wise because lots of galleries are selling prints or giclees and certain galleries, like mine, only sell original works.”

Perhaps due to Laguna’s beachside locale, many galleries focus on California impressionist landscapes and seascapes, including The Redfern Gallery and Vanessa’s Ocean Avenue studio gallery. A painting of the waves may call to a surfer, while a depiction of the canyon might be the ideal selection for a local environmental activist. For modern art aficionados, however, Peter Blake Gallery features contemporary pieces, as does Avran, which also carries international, museum-quality glasswork. Pop culture enthusiasts are likely to appreciate the colorful drizzle art from Robert Holton’s studio, while sports fans may be captivated by the charcoal renderings of great athletes offered by Hobrecht Sports Art gallery. Meanwhile, for realists, several places concentrate on photography, like the new Ning Zhou Gallery.

Aside from galleries, Sawdust Art Festival, Festival of the Arts and Art-A-Fair bring together scores of artists and mediums in the summertime as well as Winter Fantasy in November and December on the Sawdust grounds, celebrating its 25th edition this year. And for those seeking a less expensive purchase—perhaps from an artist who hasn’t yet been discovered—another option is to select a piece by a student.

Throughout the year, buyers interested in student work may contact Peter Zokosky, chairman of the Master of Fine Arts program at Laguna College of Art & Design (LCAD). Those shopping for a gift in spring or summer might wait until the school year’s end to visit the student shows at Laguna Art Museum and LCAD Gallery on Ocean Avenue. LCAD’s premier event is the Collector’s Choice fall auction, which includes student work alongside pieces by other artists.

Finally, since so many live-and-work studios are in Laguna, sometimes it’s best to go straight to the artist for the best deal. “A special idea that I’m doing this year … is I’m going to be giving people a card to go visit the artist’s studio—whether it’s mine or one of my other local artists—to see and experience the art directly with them,” Vanessa shares, adding that recipients will get to pick a piece to take home. “… That can be priceless.”

—Written by Sharon Stello

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