Share this story

Behind the scenes with Santa’s elves: The Sawdust Festival’s Winter Fantasy kicks off its 31st season


Soaring temperatures aside, the Sawdust Festival’s Winter Fantasy feels a little like stepping inside Santa’s workshop. Some of Orange County’s most talented elves have been hard at work throwing pottery, blowing glass, turning wood, wiring jewelry and creating handcrafted, one-of-a-kind treasures. This year, 153 artists are showing work across 10 different mediums from two-dimensional photography, paintings and other wall hangings to three-dimensional ceramics, textiles, jewelry and more. Your holiday shopping woes and supply chain issues can be solved this season with one fun stop. 

behind the WF 28

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The Sawdust Festival grounds have been transformed into a winter wonderland, complete with Santa’s village, a gingerbread house, Christmas trees and even some festive falling snow 

Even if you’re not in the mood to shop, the Winter Fantasy Festival will still get you into the holiday spirit. Visit Santa to share your wish list and take a photo. Enjoy the 16 Christmas trees decorated by local nonprofits. Sit back and listen to live music from three stages while enjoying a hot toddy (or, in this weather, a refreshing icy lemonade). Six outdoor food concession stands offer an array of options from Mexican to Mediterranean, as well as vegetarian and vegan choices. 

behind the WF 25

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Stop by Santa’s house to share your Christmas wish list or take a photo. Join Santa for a pancake breakfast with the Laguna Beach Fire Department on Sunday, Dec. 12 at 8:30 a.m.

Winter Fantasy also hosts ceramic workshops, glassblowing demonstrations and various art classes for kids. If visiting with children, don’t forget to stop by the petting zoo where a lazy chicken routinely catches a ride on the back of his favorite sheep. Youngsters are invited to play with the baby goats, the tiny rooting piglet and the languid llama while navigating around the many chickens and ducks strolling the grounds. Children might also enjoy marionette puppet shows, a strolling balloon artist and various magical acts. 

behind the WF 9

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The petting zoo offers children the chance to catch up with a variety of barnyard animals

For the artists, it’s all about showcasing their treasures. We plucked out a few booths to highlight a small sampling of the craftsmanship on display and stopped in at some scenic spots around the grounds to give you a flavor of this year’s Winter Fantasy offerings. 

Pysanka Eggs by Adriana Wrzesniewski

Ukrainian Adriana Wrzesniewski has practiced the art of pysanka her whole life. “The pysanka artform is well over 5,000 years old,” said Wrzesniewski. “Passed down through the generations in all the Slavic nations of Eastern Europe, Easter eggs are decorated using the wax and dye process.”

Each culture has their own representation and their own style of design. “I follow the Ukrainian designs. My mother started teaching me the art form when I was about six years old. It’s a way for me to hold onto my culture while also presenting my culture to novices.” 

Wrzesniewski describes the pysanka process as similar to the batik method, using wax and dye. The eggs – symbols of fertility, rebirth and spring – are traditionally given as gifts. Every color and pattern represents different virtues the giver wishes to bestow on the recipient. Yellow symbolizes wealth while pink signifies success. Diamonds bestow knowledge while swirls offer protection against evil. 

Some of Wrzesniewski’s eggs are made from dyable plastic. Others are actual eggs (though they’re quite durable). Each one is a unique and gorgeous keepsake. Visit booth 303 or the artist’s website at

behind the WF 18

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Adriana Wrzesniewski’s pysanka eggs are on display in booth 303 

Japanese stacking stones by Terry Tuzzolino

Five-year Winter Fantasy exhibitor Terry Tuzzolino added a new product to his woodworking booth this year. In addition to Tuzzolino’s traditional cutting boards, bowls and vases, he’s incorporated Japanese stacking stones (known in Japan as Tumi Ishi wood balancing blocks). The inspiration came from the meditative and fun pastime of stacking and balancing stones. The wooden blocks are meant to mimic the natural and non-symmetrical shape of rocks. “They’re intended to be a soothing and relaxing activity,” said Tuzzolino. “All the colors are natural, enhanced with mineral oil. It’s amazing what nature offers us.” 

Tuzzolino sources the wood from all over California, as well as Africa and South America. “The colors are incredible,” said Tuzzolino, pointing out mango wood from Hawaii, ebony from Africa, maple and mahogany. Tuzzolino also experimented this year with resin-poured bowls. By embedding wood in a clear resin, it preserves the natural beauty of each piece.

Tuzzolino’s booth features smaller items such as handmade custom pens, as well as large wooden serving platters. Stop by booth 317 for a full tour.

behind the WF 15

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Terry Tuzzolino showcases his wooden stacking stones in booth 317 

Horsehair ceramics by Robert H. Jones

This year’s Winter Fantasy includes 19 ceramics and pottery booths, each one unique. Perhaps one of the more distinctive processes, however, is the use of horsehair embedded in the glaze. Potter Robert H. Jones has perfected various techniques over his 28 years of working with ceramics. Now working with horsehair, the results are always unpredictable and exciting.

“The horsehair ceramic technique originated with potters of the Yellowcorn Clan of the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico,” said Jones. “Once the piece reaches the appropriate temperature inside the kiln, the pot is pulled out quickly. That instant, horsehair strands are gently applied, burning on contact with the hot clay surface. It is said that the spirit and energy of the horse now resides within the pottery. Once the piece cools down, it is cleaned and waxed with special care. The black and white results are always exciting and dramatic with no two pieces coming out the same.”

The pieces are intended for decorative use only and not intended for use with food. No animals are harmed in the process. Jones’s booth is located at 118. 

behind the WF 3

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Robert H. Jones’s horsehair ceramics can be found at booth 118. His work has been showcased at the Montage Resort and displayed in galleries and design rooms across California. 

A few other ceramic highlights

Mike Brennan uses the Raku method, an artform originating from Japanese tea ceremonies. Pots are removed from the kiln and while still glowing red at 1,800 degrees, they’re sealed in cans of leaves or paper where they erupt into flame. The result are patterns of crackle and metallic colors when the glaze quickly cools. Brennan’s creations can be found at booth 116.

Longtime Sawdust exhibitor Bill Darnall’s white stoneware goes through two separate firings (the first at 1,900 degrees and the second at 2,400). As a result of Darnall’s quality materials, extreme temperatures and time spent in the kiln, his pieces are all microwave, dishwasher and freezer safe and entirely lead free. The pieces are extremely functional and incredibly unique.

behind the WF 5

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Ceramic artist Bill Darnall has been showing in the Sawdust Festival since 1973. He also taught ceramics at Laguna Beach High School for 30 years. Find him at booth 120. 

If all this inspires you to try your own hand at ceramics, check out the Ceramics Center located near Bill Darnall’s booth. Ceramic classes are offered daily during Festival hours and are free to participants.

behind the WF 2

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Free ceramics classes are offered daily during Festival hours at the Ceramics Center located to the left of the front entrance  

Artisan Night Light daughter/father team recreate ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas in Laguna Beach

Daughter/Father duo Gwen and Carl Lind make an ideal team. They began showing in the Sawdust’s Winter Fantasy in 2008. What began as a business building Craftsman-style lamps (large, time consuming and expensive to build) eventually morphed into a thriving cottage industry creating artisan night lights offered at an agreeable price. Drawing inspiration from their customers, as well as the world around them, together they compose each piece, design and build their handcrafted nightlights. Cityscapes, nature scenes, wildlife, Americana, the duo has produced hundreds of magical images across a wide spectrum of themes. The award-winning team sells these artistic jewels nationwide.

This year, they’re introducing their collaborative book project, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas in Laguna Beach. Several of their Christmas-inspired nightlights featuring iconic Laguna Beach scenes are included in the book. Santa lands his sleigh in the surf as eight tiny reindeer trot up onto the beach. He sails over the famous Lifeguard Tower at Main Beach. Each carefully painted image, enhanced by the glowing backlight, is a delightful reminder of where we live.

Unique to our town, the book makes an ideal holiday gift for a Laguna Beach youngster. Add in a Christmas-themed nightlight and they’ll drift off to sleep dreaming of Santa’s arrival on the sand. Visit booth 422 to see the full collection or visit the artists’ website at

behind the WF 12

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Artisan Night Light owners Gwen and Carl Lind with their new book, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas in Laguna Beach.” Find them in booth 422. 

Community trees

Once you’ve chosen your parcels, stroll through the Festival grounds to locate the 16 community trees decorated by local nonprofits. 

“An essential element to Winter Fantasy is the inclusion of the community trees that local community members and nonprofits are invited to decorate in contribution to the show,” said Franky Duschane, director of marketing for the Sawdust Festival. “We provide each tree with lights and stand at no cost and the organization decorates their tree with ornaments and a theme of their choice. At the end of the show, the organizations are allowed to keep their tree, or we donate them to families in need. We estimate 8-10 trees will go to families after Winter Fantasy ends.”

This year’s first place winner, as chosen by Sawdust Festival visitors on opening day, was the Friendship Shelter. Promise 4 Paws took second place and the Blue Bell Foundation for Cats went home with third. 

Other participants included the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, LOCA, Anaheim Youtopia, PUP Laguna Beach, Laguna Beach Parents Club, Waymakers Youth Shelter, Girl Scouts of OC and Brownies, Daisy Girl Scouts of Laguna Beach, Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach, Arts Commission “Holiday Palettes,” KX FM Radio 104.7, American Auxiliary League Unit 222 and El Morro Elementary. 

behind the WF extra

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Sawdust Festival

Representatives from the Friendship Shelter gather around their award-winning tree 

For a complete schedule of all the ongoing events this season, visit the Sawdust Festival’s website at

Winter Fantasy is open weekends, November 20 through December 19, as well as Black Friday on November 26. Hours are 10 a.m.-7 p.m. 

Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors, $5 for children (6-12) and free for veterans and children ages 5 and under. A season pass is available for $20 which allows unlimited admission. Tickets may be purchased in advance online or in person at the box office.

For more photos by Mary Hurlbut, go to slideshow below:


Shaena Stabler, President & CEO -

Lana Johnson, Editor -

Tom Johnson, Publisher -

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Marrie Stone, Sara Hall, Suzie Harrison and Theresa Keegan are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

Email: with news releases, letters, etc.


Email: for questions about advertising


*The content and ads in this publication do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the publisher.

© 2023 2S Publishing, LLC - All Rights Reserved.