Of all the celebrities Jon Wyer Seeman has met, Liberace is his favorite.
The Aliso Viejo resident was showing sculptural wood furniture at the Festival of Arts in 1985 when the pianist and "his tall, blonde boyfriend" arrived at his booth.
Seeman recalls the entertainer — full name W¿adziu Valentino Liberace — being arrayed in "extravagant attire and fingers loaded with rings."
"We joked around a bit and he held out his hand — palm down — and said, 'You should design and build me a piano out of this beautiful Hawaiian Koa,'" Seeman, 62, recounted. "I replied, 'I was thinking the same thing!'"
Despite grabbing a business card on his way out, Liberace never got in touch. But even without a celebrity endorsement, Seeman has returned nearly every year to the festival. He is a man of great imagination who is devoted to developing his craft.
Having created a 14-inch-high abstract steel sculpture for the first time as a 15-year-old Laguna Beach High School student, Seeman moved on to photography in New York City. The desire to create three-dimensional artwork pulled him first toward contemporary furniture, but, eventually, artistry trumped functionality.
"The piece must have a great design," said Seeman, whose ideas have resulted in sketches, digital renderings and a 14-foot stainless-steel sculpture that will go on display this year. "It's important to me to create tension among the forms — that makes the piece more intriguing."
An invite-only show
Currently in its 81st year, the Festival of Arts brings Orange County creativity — from painters, jewelers, mixed-media artists and others — to the fore. Junior art, exhibitions and art tours are also on the roster Sunday through Aug. 31.
According to Sharbie Higuchi, director of marketing and public relations, awards abound among the exhibiting artists from Irvine, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, San Juan Capistrano, Dana Point and other cities, who will partake in a high-caliber juried show.
"Without a doubt, the stars of the Festival of Arts Fine Art Show are our 140 artists," she said. "Each artist is as unique as their artwork with an equally exceptional story to share. The quality of the artwork is impressive."
Longtime contributors, Higuchi noted, also volunteer their time for advisory committees and art workshops and serve as junior art jurors and board members.
"Our artists are very generous in giving back to an organization which gives so much to the arts," she said.
Other activities include Adult Art Workshops, an Art Talk series, a "Sunday in the Park" music series and Jazz on the Green. The festival's Acura/KOST Celebrity Benefit Concert and Pageant on Aug. 24 will be headlined by singer-songwriter James Ingram and hosted by actress Heather Locklear.
As a child, Seeman remembers his attention being drawn to striking photographs showcased at the festival.
"It's kind of funny," he said. "If I wasn't at the beach, I was around the show selling programs for 50 cents."
Seeman took the plunge in 1975 and became part of the lineup. In the 38 years since, he has missed only one summer at the festival grounds. Since this is the sole art show he participates in, the sculptor relies on it to introduce his latest pieces. He also recognizes that the venue facilitates connections with buyers who, under ordinary circumstances, he might never cross paths with.