Festival of Arts exhibit at John Wayne Airport invites public to travel through time


The Festival of Arts has partnered with John Wayne Airport to put artwork from its permanent collection on display throughout the transportation center.

Those traveling into and out of Orange County have had a chance to engage with some of the history of the local arts community for the past four months.

Nearly 90 pieces of artwork have been displayed behind glass at the airport since the beginning of July. The exhibit, which is the largest put together from the permanent collection, is scheduled to conclude on Nov. 1.

“One of the reasons we liked being here is that it is a public place,” said Tom Lamb, a photographer and Festival of Arts board member. “People can see it. One of our mandates of the collection is that it be seen, and how do you show it? Would this be better suited in a museum? Maybe, because it would be more contiguous, and perhaps it would be easier to see, but you’re getting a visitor much like the Pageant or the Festival of the Arts gets, people who know not that much about art but all of a sudden get to see art.”

Pat Sparkuhl, who recently retired as chief curator of the permanent collection, spent approximately a year curating the selection of works. The Festival of Arts permanent collection now contains more than 1,000 pieces, providing a glimpse into the creatives and culture that have defined the artistic community in and around Laguna Beach through the decades.

“We are thrilled to partner with John Wayne Airport to bring the Festival of Arts permanent collection to a wider audience as part of the continuation of the festival’s two-year 90th anniversary celebration,” Sparkuhl said in a statement. “Art has the power to captivate, inspire and transform, and we believe that this exhibition will enrich the travel experience for airport visitors while promoting the vibrant arts community in our region.”

A visitor takes a picture of artwork in the Festival of Arts exhibit at John Wayne Airport.

A visitor takes a picture of artwork in the Festival of Arts exhibit at John Wayne Airport.

(Courtesy of Robert A. Hansen)

As a public place, the airport exhibit does set some boundaries for the artworks on display. It largely shies away from nudity, political statements and weaponry to maintain a family-friendly environment.

In such a setting, one might anticipate landscape and portraiture works to thrive. There is a fair share of plein air painting, including that of Joseph Kleitsch, whose work was recently the subject of an exhibit at the Laguna Art Museum.

Although it has three terminals, the airport is linear, allowing an individual to come across all of the artwork if they walk from one end to the other. The Vi Smith Gallery, located on the secure side of the airport, spans Terminal A and Terminal C. Some three-dimensional sculptures have been placed in the middle, including one display case featuring the glass artistry of John Barber and Sherry Salito-Forsen along with a bronze statue from Lewis Cohen.

Elizabeth Platt, a Lake Forest resident, was taking in the three-dimensional art showcased in the airport. A past patron of the Pageant of the Masters and the Festival of Arts, Platt said she has purchased art from exhibitors during her past visits.

“I just like to see something pretty and interesting and something that I like,” Platt said. “I like the diversity of this display. I would pass by the first one because that’s not me. Everything in the second one is breathtaking to me. Art is in the eye of the beholder.”

Each piece of art is accompanied by a panel providing information on the artist.

Virginia Woolley's

Virginia Woolley’s “Flower Stalls” is among the Festival of Arts’ permanent collection pieces on display at John Wayne Airport.

(Courtesy of Robert A. Hansen)

Patti Hawkins of Seattle was admiring a chess set made of bronze and wood created by Steven Dahlberg before her flight.

“I enjoy seeing it here, something different,” Hawkins said of the art show. “Now, if I were in a hurry passing by, I would miss it completely. When I’m leaving Seattle, which is my home base, I pretty much miss everything because I’m always in a hurry, the airport is always backed up, and all I want to do is get to my gate.”

Hawkins added that if she is early, she likes to walk because she is going to be sitting on the plane for a long time. Studying the exhibit gave her something to do.

A book featuring the selected works for the airport showcase will be available at the Festival of Arts’ next summer show.

One historical treasure featured in the show is Virginia Woolley’s “Flower Stalls,” a 1932 painting that became the first sold at the Festival of Arts.

“Some people would just say, ‘Why do we need history?’ Lamb said. “You need history because you’re putting on current events. You’re doing a pageant that’s like an art history show. You go to the pageant, you come back, and you learn something about art.”

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