La Primavera Kicks Off Fiesta

La Presidenta Denise Sanford Unveils Poster and Pin

El Primer Caballero Paul Uyesaka and La Presidenta Denise Sanford.

Gail Arnold

El Primer Caballero Paul Uyesaka and La Presidenta Denise Sanford.

On May 19, Old Spanish Days 2018 kicked off with more than 200 enthusiastic Fiesta supporters enjoying La Primavera. Held at the Carriage and Western Art Museum, the event featured the unveiling of the official poster and pin and dances by the Spirit, Junior Spirit, and Grupo de Danza Folklórica Quetzalcóatl. The event was also a fundraiser for the nonprofit Old Spanish Days, with ticket sales and proceeds from the live auction supporting the myriad public events the organization will bring to the community August 1-5.

During the reception hour, guests clad in fine Fiesta attire mingled inside the Carriage Museum and on its grounds, wth the western storefronts inside and carriages lining the perimeter of the grounds providing an especially fitting backdrop for this celebration of Old Spanish Days.

Master of Ceremonies Josiah Jenkins beckoned guests to be seated in the tented dining area for the dinner and program. Georgey Taupin, this year’s Junior Spirit, charmed the audience with an alegria de Cadiz form of flamenco dance. Taupin, 10, daughter of songwriter Bernie Taupin, is homeschooled in Santa Ynez and has studied at Zermeno Dance Academy since she was six. In addition to dance, she enjoys studying piano, Latin, and math. She aspires to attend college and become a set designer for children’s TV shows.

Jesalyn Contreras McCollum, the 2018 Spirit, then wowed the audience with a bulería form of flamenco dance. She is no stranger to Fiesta, six years ago she was the Junior Spirit. At 17, McCollum is a junior homeschooled student residing in Solvang. She started dancing at age 3 at Garcia Dance Studio and has studied at Linda Vega Dance Studio since she was six. For the past two years, she has also taught at Linda Vega. She hopes to attend the University of New Mexico, where she will major in business and minor in flamenco, then return to Santa Barbara to open her own dance studio. Also entertaining the crowd was a lively and colorful performance by Grupo de Danza Folklórica Quetzalcóatl.


La Presidenta Denise Sanford unveiled the official poster and pin, both of which she was charged with designing. Sanford shared that when she saw Jesus Helguera’s La Bamba painting ten years ago, she instantly knew that if she ever became La Presidenta, the painting would be the basis of her poster. She was drawn to La Bamba because of its happy and traditional look.

The painting has been in Sullivan Goss’s collection for 10 years, and the gallery’s owner, Nathan Vonk, joined Sanford on the stage for the unveiling of the original painting alongside the poster. Demonstrating the popularity of the painting, Vonk shared how one year, the gallery forgot to display the painting on time, and a dozen fans promptly reminded them to do so. According to Vonk, Helguera was one of the most prolific and important Mexican painters, but his name lacks recognition because most of his work was done on commission and intended to be turned into calendars and posters. He was, Vonk said, the Norman Rockwell of Mexico. La Bamba is a traditional wedding dance from Vera Cruz, where Helguera resided. The poster includes this year’s theme, chosen by Sanford, “Celebrate Traditions,” written in both English and Spanish per Sanford’s wishes.

In explaining her choice of this year’s theme, Sanford related how the celebration of our traditions has been the predominant source of joy and fulfillment she has experienced through her work with Old Spanish Days (OSD). She noted also that while “celebration is always difficult when we have lost so much in our community, we do so with reverent respect so we can remember and celebrate all we’ve lost and the strength we have shown as we rebuild.”

The pin features the Santa Barbara County Courthouse as well as La Bamba. Sanford explained that she chose the Courthouse because the building has always been a favorite of hers and because of its primacy in Fiesta, with dancers of all ages performing in the Sunken Gardens. Debbie Uquist assisted with the design of the poster and Steve Lipman of Pincrafters assisted with the design of the pin. Tom Bateman lead a rapid-fire auction of several items before Elements took to the stage and the dancing began.

Sanford is a California native, raised in Northridge, where she married her high school sweetheart. She moved to Santa Barbara in1982 and joined the OSD Board in 2002. Sanford has been in banking for 38 years and recently assumed the position of Vice President, Community Banking Manager at Community West Bank. She currently serves on leadership committees with both the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Association and on a fundraising committee for the Santa Barbara Police Foundation. She has served on numerous nonprofit boards over the years. She has two sons, Conner, 25, and Kirby, 23. For Fiesta, her partner, Paul Uyesaka, is proud to be El Primer Caballero.

The Rancho Period that Fiesta celebrates was a period of prosperity under Mexican and American rule during which people resided on ranches with cattle-raising being the main industry. The people are known for their beauty, friendliness, hospitality, civility of manners, and love for fiestas. Music, dance, and song were integral parts of their life.

For a full list of Fiesta events and other info about Old Spanish Days, click here.

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