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LO Festival of the Arts to celebrate golden anniversary this weekend

by: REVIEW FILE PHOTO - The Lake Oswego Review enthusiastically covered the very first Lake Oswego arts festival in 1963. Here, three Lake Oswego women show art that was displayed that first year. From left are Mrs. Davis Jackson, Mrs. Frank Mangelsdorf and Mrs. Hull Dolson.The Lake Oswego Festival of the Arts is always special, but this year it will be more special than ever.

That is because the festival will observe its 50th anniversary. It was the little event that became big and kept getting bigger.

“It grew and grew and grew,” said Dee Denton, now a Lake Oswego legend but just the bubbly manager of the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce back in 1963. Denton knew a good idea when she heard one, and that is how one of Lake Oswego’s greatest events started.

“Two very well-known ladies (Mary Goodall and Marian Munger) walked into my office,” Denton said. “They wanted an art community and talked about putting up art in all the places of business.”

Denton brought the idea to the chamber board of directors, and “it was so well-received.” The result was the Arts and Flowers Festival, and it struck a chord from the start, even though its form was quite different in its first year. Art was placed all over the city, even in barber shops, and the big open show was held in an old telephone warehouse. It was something of a marathon event since it was held over two weeks.

The headlines of the Lake Oswego Review on May 9, 1963, promised that the event should appeal to everyone who had a garden. The public wasn’t afraid to get corny to promote the festival. One priceless photo shows members of the board wearing strange gear like slick raincoats, derbies and dresses from the Victorian era when everyone was quite modest. One lady played a guitar, another played a banjo and one Lake Oswego matron, dressed in a gown from the 1890s, smiled through an empty picture frame.

Denton said, “Lake Oswego loved it. The response of the community showed that we needed this event. It was the one thing I could see that could pull all of us together for the same thing.”

“It was grown by the community,” said Joan Sappington of Lake Oswego. “It started very small. It has really grown as the city has grown and the passion has grown. The festival is a wonderful place to gather together. It has grown because we’ve had wonderfully energetic people.”

One of those wonderfully energetic people is Sappington. She is currently hard at work preparing the 2013 festival, something she has done for the past 40 years.

Sappington recalls that the first special exhibit was an especially important milestone for the festival in 1990. Lake Oswego had become a sister city with Mordialloc, a suburb of Melbourne in Australia. These friendly Aussies had a friendly proposal: Would Lake Oswego be interested in hosting Australia’s world-prestigious exhibit of aboriginal art? The answer was something along the lines of: “Jumping anaconda! Yes!”

The event has not been the same since.

“It was an enormous change for us and a huge success,” Sappington said. “It was the start of our featuring other art forms and new genres of enormous variety, like Mexican masks, colored pencils, art from New Guinea, miniatures, photography, stone carvings, even comics.”

Of the comics exhibit, Denton said, “We were packed! It was wonderful. We had authors, designers and artists from Los Angeles and back east come here.”

But flocks of folks even show up for special exhibitions of Japanese kimonos and calligraphy.

These astonishing exhibits live up to Sappington’s motto: “I want people to see the very best in the art world.”

As the festival evolved over five decades it earned a new name, a new location and a new time. Most notably, it attracted a new kind of art viewer. The LOFOA became the arts festival for people who didn’t like art. Or at least people who thought they didn’t like art.

“Some people shy away from galleries and museums,” Denton said. “But they come here and love the art.”

This exemplifies the top mission of the festival: to educate people about art.

“We’re all learning together,” Sappington said.

Denton credits the board of the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce as being the foundation of the festival’s success. From the day she walked in with the idea for the event, the chamber board has given its steadfast support to LOFOA.

“They could have told me ‘hey, forget it.’ But they didn’t,” Denton said. “The chamber board always has seen what this event does for our community.”

The 2013 Lake Oswego Festival of the Arts will be held Friday through Sunday at the Lakewood Center for the Arts, George Rogers Park and Marylhurst University. For more information, see the special section inside of last Thursday’s newspaper or go to lakewood-center.org.

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