Glassblowing is big draw at 44th annual Sawdust Art Festival

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C. J. Dablo/KPCC

Christopher Jeffries, left, shapes a glass mug as his assistant Cameron Dougherty blows through the pipe to give the piece its final form at the Sawdust Art Festival on July 25, 2010 in Laguna Beach, Calif.

Hundreds of people took in a veritable feast for the eyes on Sunday at the 44th annual Laguna Beach Sawdust Festival.

One of the more popular booths featured a furnace heated to more than 2,100 degrees for the glass blowing demonstrations held throughout the day.

Onlookers pressed against the windows as they watched Christopher Jeffries, 35, turn lumps of molten glass the color of rusty orange into colorful mugs and vases.

“It’s kind of like an orchestrated dance,” Jeffries said. “It’s very visual. There’s a lot of fire. There’s a lot of smoke. There’s sounds from the torches."

Dawn Vandehey, a former Laguna Beach resident, said she drove 27 hours with her family from Bainbridge Island, Washington, to visit Laguna Beach and came to the festival to buy her favorite ornaments.

“It’s a fabulous art place,” said the 43-year-old mother of two. “It vibrates. It’s so exciting.

"This is my favorite place to be.”

Toni Humphries, a homemaker from Orange, thought the glassblowing looked beautiful.

“I saw it grow and grow," she said. "I thought, ‘How big can it get without shattering?’ You know, it just amazes me.”

Bruce Freund has been blowing glass for 32 years. He's been displaying his work at the festival for 27 years. His favorite kind of glass art is millefiori glass, a pattern that follows an Italian tradition of glass making. One piece Freund created using this technique featured tiny ribbons that seemed to float in clear glass.

Freund says that the tradition of glass art can be better appreciated where he has that opportunity to explain what it takes to make a single piece. He’s invested more than $20,000 in materials alone.

“People don’t understand the intricacies of glass unless you tell them,” Freund said.

For Long Beach resident Jill Wertz, an executive who manages a staffing company, the festival can be a welcome break.

“It’s a relaxing environment versus the fast-paced high-tech world we live in with traffic," she said. "It’s like a vacation without leaving the area.”

“It’s more than just visual. It’s a sensory experience.”

The Sawdust Festival continues through August 31.

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