July 29, 2011 Stu News
By SUZIE HARRISON
Growing up in Laguna Beach, she literally helped people get a better focus on art, and now artist Robin Wethe Altman is showing a different view of Laguna through her eyes.
Her family started and managed the Binocular and Blanket rental concession that serves the Pageant of the Masters, and ran it for 45 years until the Festival of Arts took over two years ago.
Now the artist is showing her perspective of Laguna with her new vibrant and colorful piece that has been made into a poster, “Fun in Laguna Beach.”
What started out as a painting she hoped would be chosen for this year’s Art-A-Fair Festival poster has turned into a project that she hopes will reach even more people.
“I grew up in Laguna so creating this reproduction was truly a labor of love,” Wethe Altman said. “Almost everything Laguna Beach is known for is in this image.”
For reference to create the poster, she took 85 photographs of Laguna, including Laguna’s iconic places, all the major points of the town.
“It was truly a logistical feat,” Wethe Altman said. ”Not only that, but I had to elevate my imagination to a higher level, as if I were hovering over the ocean somewhere and could see everything from above.”
As she painted the image for the poster, her memories of growing up in Laguna came flooding back to her, finding it to be an almost spiritual experience.
“My entire childhood and teen years were spent tooling all around Laguna, playing on main beach as a 10-year-old, talking to the town greeter Eiler Larsen occasionally, surfing at Rock Pile, riding my bike to LBHS along Heisler Park, hiking on the mountaintops and swimming from Diver’s Cove to Main Beach,” Wethe Altman said.
The house where she grew up made it in the piece since it actually can be seen from town up on the hill. It’s the white Mediterranean house on the top left of the poster.
She moved to Laguna with her family at age five when her father was stationed at El Toro Marine Base. However, the family’s local roots began with her great grandmother who moved to Laguna in the 30s.
“My mother spent her teen years in Laguna and was a model for William Mortenson a famous photographer in town,” Wethe Altman said. “My paternal Grandmother, Grace Irene Wethe was one of the two DAR ladies who started the Patriot’s Day Parade here.”
So the family affair began and the business passed from one sibling to another – first to her older brother David and then it was passed down to her.
Of course, Wethe Altman has countless seminal memories about her days tending the booth, especially when it was out in the City’s parking lot on Laguna Canyon Road, where humanity passes by.
In her early teens and 20s, she made friends with so many characters. “I really gained an insight into humanity. Hari Krishnas on feast night would always bring me feast dinners. And the born again Christians would be preaching and I would have discussions with them.”
The insight she gained was rather ironic since the booth was modeled after the Peanuts comics “psychiatric booth” tended to by the Lucy van Pelt character. However, instead of charging 5 cents like the cartoon character – she would talk to and listen to anyone for free.
“I was a sitting duck for characters; I often did feel like Lucy, sitting under my kerosene lamp,” Wethe Altman said.
During the day the artist was exhibiting at the Sawdust Art Festival, selling her paintings, and in her night office while she was renting the binoculars she made shell necklaces that earned her $300 to $400 a day. “Working day and night I paid my way through college and it was a private school,” Wethe Altman said. Her Festival of Arts scholarship facilitated too.
She even saw history in the making, on the small screen of a portable TV, the very first moon landing of the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969, as astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to step on the moon. A friendly well-known local, Les Chatham, brought his TV so she wouldn’t miss it.
After 17 years across the way, the concession was moved onto the festival grounds so patrons wouldn’t have to cross the road for the popular service. Over the years, her husband Don, and then her daughters Katie, Erin and Jennifer became a part of the business.
“In 1993 I became an artist on the grounds and remained so for 10 years. They put my booth right next to the Binocular Concession so we could mind both businesses,” Wethe Altman said.
Her family carefully grew and nurtured the stand from a $1,000 a summer endeavor to almost a hundred times that.
“Patrons of the Festival came to know and trust us and in 45 years of Pageants and we never missed one night of service,” Wethe Altman said.
She created the poster as her tribute to Laguna and the rich childhood she experienced here.
Laguna has a colorful and beautiful mix of people and I learned to respect differences here. I learned about other cultures in Laguna too because of all the visitors who come from all over the world,” Wethe Altman said.
The poster was created for anyone who has experienced Laguna beach, visitors and locals alike.
“It’s intended to radiate the simple joy and beauty of our artistic town. From the goats on the hill to the trolley car to Hotel Laguna and all three Festivals and Eiler Larsen,” Wethe Altman said. “The poster ‘Fun In Laguna Beach’ simply says, ‘thank you Laguna for the happy gem in the world that you are.”
Now showing at the Art-A-Fair and the Watercolor Gallery, the artist has been in all three Festivals and many local galleries. She’s also creating paintings as a vehicle to promote causes that she supports. A recent project includes a piece the artist created for philanthropist Rosalind Russell, also known as Laguna Beach “goat lady,” who started the R Star Foundation, donating goats to Nepalese women.
To purchase the “Fun in Laguna Beach” poster, 22” x 28,” go to her website at www.rwethealtman.com for $24.95, including S & H or buy locally throughout town at stores and hotels for $20. A t-shirt is also available for $20 online. For groups or individuals who want to sell her poster as a fundraiser for their cause, email firstname.lastname@example.org.