An Arapaho keeps vigil for “Distant Enemies.”

Held where California coastal breezes wash up and over live oaks and black sage atop canyon walls that sweep down to the pounding surf of the Pacific Ocean, the Festival of Arts of Laguna Beach has showcased juried art each summer since 1932. The panoply of mixed-media works, sculptures, pastels, drawings, serigraphs, photographs, ceramics, jewelry, fiber arts, etched and stained glass, handcrafted furniture and even scrimshaw represents only half of an event that draws as many as 225,000 people. The other half is the Pageant of the Masters, a presentation of tableau vivant (living art).

In a rigorous two-phase process, hundreds of local artists competed to show and sell their works at the 2019 festival. Only 140 made the cut, many after repeated entries over the years. Among the chosen few was first-timer Rick Hill, who creates Western and wildlife sculptures and paints oils out of his Orange County home studio. “I don’t take this honor lightly,” he says.

Born and raised on the shores of Lake Erie, Pa., he graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh in 1976 and in the early 1980s moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as a graphic designer at Hughes Aircraft for 27 years. In the late 1990s Hill took a structural design class and wound up creating his first sculpture. “I stumbled on my inner self and walked out of the class a changed individual,” he recalls.

Hill plans on creating a 10-foot bronze figure of Kizh heroine Toypurina, depicted here in a bust by the artist.

Some 20 years later his body of work includes a menagerie of sculpted elks, wolves, beavers, bears, birds, horses and cattle. Cowboys also cast shadows across his studio. His bronze Chasin’ Strays, for example, hints at the challenges hands faced when working cattle on the open range. The bronzes that resonate the most with Hill, however, are those he renders of American Indians, such works as Bear Hunter (Arikara), Distant Enemies (Arapaho), Trade Blanket and Seneca Warrior (Iroquois). The artist recently collaborated with members of the Kizh Nation (aka Gabrieleño Indians, historically associated with Mission San Gabriel Arcángel in Los Angeles County). Hill plans to create a 10-foot bronze tribute to a young Kizh female shaman named Toypurina, who in 1785 led a revolt against the Spanish soldiers and padres at San Gabriel. The Spanish governor of California ultimately banished Toypurina from the mission, and she died in exile at age 39 on May 22, 1799, at Mission San Juan Bautista (in present-day San Benito County), where she rests in an unmarked grave.

Over the past two decades Hill has participated in Arizona’s select Sedona Arts Festival, Prescott Art & Crafts Festival and Scottsdale Arts Festival, while his works have appeared at the Upstairs Gallery in Carefree, Ariz., and Rinconart Studio in Placerville, Calif. Encouraged by his warm reception at the Festival of Arts of Laguna Beach, he plans to show his oils for the first time next year, hopefully at the festival itself, but certainly at Art-A-Fair, across Laguna Canyon Road from the festival grounds. WW

A cowboy rounds up wandering steers in “Chasin’ Strays.”