During the holiday season in Laguna Beach, be sure to look UP to connect with the very roots of our fine city – nearly 400 hand-painted Holiday Palettes!

As you most likely know, before she was an international beach mecca or an MTV reality show favorite, Laguna Beach was one of the first and finest art colonies in North America. To this day, we house hundreds of art galleries; host the globally renowned Pageant of the Masters; roll out three sizable art festivals every summer; and entertain thousands of visitors on our monthly Art Walk nights. (In other words, we’re artsy and we rock.)

What better way, then, to show our affinity and appreciation for our right-brained resident artists than with our annual Holiday Palettes? That’s right … as you amble our streets this holiday season, looking sideways at this or around the corner at that, pause for a moment to look UP at the hundreds of plywood palettes on our light poles, each hand-painted by a Laguna Beach artist.

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The Holiday Palette tradition began in 1966 with 104 palettes on display, but these weren’t initially painted by our Laguna Beach artists (the City used three holiday screen-printed designs). Since then, the program has painted a much more creative program for itself in that …

  • In 1982, hundreds of resident artists got personally involved, submitting custom palettes with their own holiday artistic creations,
  • Now, invited artists from the 3 festivals or resident galleries compete with submitted designs in hopes of painting one of the new palettes each year,
  • Once chosen, artists paint exactly what they’ve submitted on a 2-foot by 3-foot wooden palette,
  • Because they can only work at the crack of dawn for a couple hours at a time, city crews begin quietly attaching pairs of palettes to city light poles just before Thanksgiving to complete the extensive work in early December. (I noticed them this last weekend – did you?)

The Holiday Palettes have become such an “insider” treat for Laguna Beach artists that a Children’s Palette contest was begun six years ago. Each year, about 300 kids compete for just 12 prized palette spots. The winners’ work is mounted on wooden palettes and put on display inside City Hall through the entire holiday season, Mon – Fri, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

So you have an army or artists, and an army of devoted city crews, but the continued success of Laguna Beach’s holiday palette program rests largely with the Laguna Beach Art Commission and one devoted Mother Bear, Cultural Arts Manager for the City, Sian Poeschl.

For 13 years now, Sian (pronounced “Shawn”) has wrassled with various factions for continued funding; presided over competition invitations and submissions (the art commission votes as a collective body on winners); and followed crews’ progress as her “brood” is taken out by the guys hanging the palettes. She watches over her palette storage unit like a den full of cubs, and personally stacks, stores, and does minor repairs on the palettes. She’s the one applying the kids’ paper designs to smaller palettes for indoor viewing, and there is probably no one who mourns more than Sian when a Holiday Palette meets an occasional end with a moving truck, errant driver, or falling tree.

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Poeschl claims she never met a palette she didn’t like. “There’s really nothing like it in the world,” says Poeschl. “It’s a great Christmas tradition – I look forward to it every year.”

As you’re stopped at a stop light (please be stopped), or as you’re making your way down our Laguna Beach streets, take a photo of your favorite palette and send it my way – DianeArmitage@cox.net. I’ll feature your entry in upcoming blogs.

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