Robert Freeman, a ceramic artist and former leader of the Festival of Arts, died Feb. 13. He was 87. (Coastline Pilot / March 6, 2013)

Longtime Festival of Arts exhibitor and board member Robert Freeman, better known as Philip, died of natural causes on Feb. 13. He was 87.

Freeman, a ceramist, was an exhibitor for 43 years and a board member from 1980 to 2000, serving as president in 1989, 1996, 1997 and 1998.

"Phil will be missed," board President Fred Sattler said. "He made enumerable contributions to the festival over the years and we treasure and value them. We were sorry to hear of his passing."

Although no longer an exhibitor, Freeman was still considered part of the festival family, Sattler said. Freeman's son-in-law, Gary Fowler, is the director of grounds and facilities.

As a board member, Freeman was an advocate for the artists and promoted rapport among the board, artists and staff, festival officials stated in a news release.

"He single-handedly would advance the concerns of the artists to the other board members," said Pat Sparkuhl, a co-exhibitor with Freeman from 1979 to 2000 and currently curator of the festival's permanent collection.

"In addition to being a unique ceramist, he was always working in the direction of collaboration with other people on the grounds."

Freeman was also enthusiastic about art education and supported the Festival's Scholarship and Junior Art Exhibit programs.

Freeman first exhibited his ceramics at the festival in 1957, the year he and his wife, Jean, moved to Laguna Beach. She also was an exhibitor.

His crystalline, glazed, hand-thrown porcelain vases and pottery, as well as ceramic koi fish, were one-of-a-kind, with each numbered, signed and registered.

Freeman's work is in the permanent collections of the Detroit Museum of Art and the Festival of Arts as well as more than 2,000 private and public collections in the U. S. and abroad.

He was also an accomplished painter and weaver, as well as an art educator.

The Freemans both taught at Saddleback Community College and together set up the first educational programs at Leisure World — now Laguna Woods Village — where he taught classes until he retired at 65.

Freeman was born July 15, 1925, in River Rouge, Mich.

He met his future wife, Jean Sampson, at the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts, later renamed the Center for Creative Studies, where they studied with famed ceramist John Foster.

It was there that Freeman learned the ancient Chinese glazing technique that produces crystalline formations. He developed crystalline and porcelain glazes. At the time, he was one of six people in the U.S. who knew how to create these secret formulas.

A veteran of World War II, Freeman's education was funded by the G.I. Bill of Rights.

It was as a Marine that Freeman first spent time in California, which he loved and vowed to return.

Freeman is survived by sisters, Joan Grace Greene and Nancy Joyce Durham, son Lance M. Freeman and daughter Paula Fowler, three grandchildren and five great grandchildren, with two more on the way. He was predeceased by his wife of 52 years.

A private memorial service will be held for Freeman at Saint Edward the Confessor Church in Dana Point.

In lieu of flowers, the family said donations may be made to the Festival of Arts Scholarship Fund or the Artists Fund at the Festival of Arts, which provides assistance to needy artists.

coastlinepilot@latimes.com

Twitter: @coastlinepilot