Then & Now: Sawdust Art Festival Classes

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After perusing the booths at Sawdust Art Festival, visitors can try making their own pottery or take classes in a number of other mediums on the event grounds. Use your hands to guide the clay spinning on a potter’s wheel, put brush to canvas, craft flowers out of paper or turn pastel strokes into enchanting sea animals. An education program has been in place since the early 1970s, although it has become more formalized through the years, according to festival officials.

In July 1977, local artist Douglas Miller snapped a shot of customers glazing mugs at John and Jan Alabaster’s Sawdust Art Festival booth. | Photo by Douglas Miller
In July 1977, local artist Douglas Miller snapped a shot of customers glazing mugs at John and Jan Alabaster’s Sawdust Art Festival booth. | Photo by Douglas Miller

Supplementing those efforts in 1976 and 1977, John and Jan Alabaster set up a booth with ceramic mugs and plaques for Sawdust attendees to decorate themselves. After customers glazed their pieces, the items were fired in a kiln on the spot for a fee. John, an artist who still lives in Laguna, recalls that providing this hands-on opportunity was rewarding, but also hard work. “It turned out to be a teaching tool, a lot of fun and long hours for us,” he says. “Someone had to light the kiln at 6 a.m., and the booth ran all day and night.” After two years, John returned to making and selling his own ceramic pots. Although he no longer exhibits at Sawdust, John’s artwork can be seen in town: He created the Five Frog Bench on South Coast Highway at the Laguna Avenue bus stop.

Ceramics classes are still offered at Sawdust today. | Photo by Jody Tiongco
Ceramics classes are still offered at Sawdust today. | Photo by Jody Tiongco

For those who want to dabble in creating their own masterpieces, Sawdust’s Ceramic Center is open every day during the festival from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. One-on-one instruction is provided for all ages to make a piece on the potter’s wheel and take it home for free as greenware; staff members will glaze and fire the item for $8. Additionally, a variety of complimentary crafts and workshops (some do require a materials fee) are offered.

– Written by Laguna Beach Magazine Staff

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