If nothing else, the Laguna Beach “Winter Fantasy” Festival on the Sawdust grounds will convince you that Laguna is filled to the brim with extraordinary artistic talent. And, once you’ve decided that you just might have graduated beyond giving gifts of socks, gloves, can openers or sweaters, you need only make a beeline to the Winter Festival to buy up the coolest, most eclectic gifts imaginable.

Just two weekends remain for the 2010 Laguna Beach Winter Fantasy Festival – Dec. 4th & 5th, and Dec. 10th, 11th, and 12th. Hours are 10 a.m to 6 p.m., and it’s open rain or shine . . . . or brisk wind as we discovered today. (Ah well, better for that Christmas spirit, right?)

While some of the 170 artists here are somewhat new to the scene, you’ll find many Laguna Beach resident artists here again for their 10th or 15th or 20th year. And, because it’s a bit quieter than summer’s Sawdust Festival, you’ll find that these folks are more than happy to talk with you about how they do what they do.

Taking just a few photos of some of my favorite finds today does no justice to the hundreds of other artists who produce really great work, but I wanted to give you a taste of what you’re missing if you haven’t yet graced the Winter Festival’s doors. You’re not going to find a festival like this anywhere in the state of California, and rarely are you going to find such a collective of high-end, hand-made art at such affordable prices anywhere, period.

PLUS, you’ve got live bands, carolers, plenty of hot drinks, a petting zoo, a quickly-expanding Toys For Tots center (bring those new toys, please!), ongoing children’s art classes and “real” adult art classes, and … of course … Santa’s first appearance of the year in Laguna Beach.

Soo . . . . get up off that couch and show these artists some R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Today’s favorite finds at the Winter Fantasy (click once on any photo for enlargement, then click once to return to the page.)

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At 16 years of age, Mike Brennan was the youngest artist to be invited to the Sawdust. Now, 30 years later, he’s still throwing his one-of-a-kind raku pottery and shipping it to every point of the globe (including to a few dear friends of my own!).

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Having never had formal art or jewelry training, Bob Johnson has done more than well these 40 years with his exquisite silver jewelry. This month, he’s also the featured artist at the Laguna Beach Cove Gallery.

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Years ago, when I first moved to Laguna Beach and discovered Christopher Jeffries, I started buying up his hand-blown glass ornaments for client gifts and “white elephant” gifts (which are endlessly wrassled over at any party). You need to see these gems up close!

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Who wants to build a Lincoln log cabin when you can build castles in the air, instead?! These cool wooden blocks are handmade by Peter Dziulak and sold in three sets (starter, 133-piece and 200-piece) to fashion the castle of your dreams. (Festival specials have sets at just $49).

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Working away at her sewing machine to replace her fast-diminishing stock, Kathryn’s “Sew Laguna” booth offer breezy purses and makeup bags in textiles and animal prints. Women buy them up in batches (I saw it with my own eyes.)

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Elizabeth Bednarzewski took up jewelry making just five years ago. A resident of Thousand Oaks most of he adult life, she used to “escape” to Laguna Beach on particularly stressful days. When she finally moved here “to lead a stress-free” life, it was then that the jewelry making idea came to fruition. She works in a vast array of semi-precious and precious stones.

Tickets for the Winter Fantasy are $6 for adults; $5 for seniors, $3 for kids 6-12 years of age; children 5 and under are free. For details, click: www.SawdustFestival.org

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