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Palo Alto arts festival draws artisans who design home decor

Annual event bring an eclectic mix of artists from around the country

Clay artist Irene Estrin takes inspiration from textures like shells, pine cones and starfish. Photo courtesy Irene Estrin.

The 36th annual Palo Alto Festival of the Arts will bring nearly 300 artists and an estimated 150,000 people to downtown Palo Alto on Saturday, Aug. 26 and Sunday, Aug. 27.

It also will bring a unique opportunity to find everything from furniture, homes goods, stained glass items, ceramics and other one-of-kind art pieces handcrafted by an eclectic mix of artists from throughout the United States.

Artist Christine Charter Moorhead, who has been working with stained-glass since 1978, is among those who will be displaying her work. She makes a variety of home goods from lamps, mirrors and windows to fireplace screens. Moorhead said she felt drawn to stained glass because of its capacity to start a conversation.

"Glass transcends the soul — you see it through different eyes, it illuminates. It takes you away from the ordinary and creates a whole different palette for people to enjoy," she said.

Irene Estrin, a clay artist from Santa Barbara who has participated in the festival for the past three years, said she got her start in clay while working as a teaching assistant with special-needs students, who took her to a clay-making class. She got hooked on creating items with textures inspired by nature and now spends the bulk of her time creating artistic home goods.

"My first texture came about because I went on a bicycle ride on the Erie Canal. I'm always picking up things, and so I picked up some gravel," she said. "I glued it on a wooden spoon and I used that for texture."

Estrin's work uses natural elements for more than just texture — her bowls, tea sets and vases are adorned with ceramic leaves and flowers.

Estrin calls her work "functional art" that she be used, not just admired. She said many times she has had to compel her buyer to actually eat out of her bowls or use her vases.

"You can enjoy art — it's not just something to look at. You can hold it, and you can feel it and use it," she said.

Steven Andersen also creates functional art pieces for the home. The Stockton woodworker uses western red cedar in his construction of chairs, benches, dining tables and planters. He combines dark and light cedar, which gives his work a unique tone.

"That's one of the aspects of the cedar that customers like," he said. "So that's part of the creative process, I guess — to alternate the colors and make that all kind of work so that the final piece can fit in all of the others. So if you bought a bunch of pieces, they're all going to look the same."

Andersen, a one-man company, was exposed to woodworking in high school and received a construction certificate in college. He worked in the cabinet business for 30 years.

Andersen said that he has had the joy of creation since he was young, when he and his brother would work with their father's tools.

"A lot of people see wood, and they just see wood," he said. "When I see wood, I see the grain, and I see potential."

The festival will take place on University Avenue, between Webster and High streets, in downtown Palo Alto from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26, and Sunday, Aug. 27. The Palo Alto Medical Foundation will sponsor the event put on by the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce. The city of Palo Alto will provide assistance with security and street closures.

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