David Stringer loved Santa Barbara dearly and his brightest times here were spent bringing forth light through his artistic flair, and nurturing and cultivating his family of friends. He died at the age of 61 on Wednesday, March 3, 2010, of a pulmonary embolism.
David moved to Santa Barbara in the early ‘90s, having headed west from a small town in Illinois at the age of 18. Here, he worked first at Macy’s and then at La Vie Bohème in Montecito until it closed last year. Through La Vie Bohème, he designed the Santa Barbara International Film Festival premieres for Finding Neverland and Memoirs of a Geisha, as well as the Peter Jackson party. Previously he had done visuals for I. Magnin and Bullock’s Wilshire, and—as many of us only learned at his memorial at Sarah House—he had been the right-hand man to Stanley Marcus at Neiman-Marcus, planned and executed Jane Fonda’s parties, and designed holiday fêtes for Halston in Manhattan.
Perhaps most importantly, David was the artistic design mastermind for many years behind the Light Up the Night and Artizan’s Ball holiday fundraisers for Sarah House, the end-of-life care home for the low-income and homeless. David was a member of the Sarah House Board of Directors and devoted to the mission of care for the least fortunate among us. These grand costume parties were masterpieces that introduced him to the broader public and revealed him, in the words of his dear friend and former employer Nora McNeely Hurley, as “the design world’s Zen Master, having a Libran fascination for detail as he thought all of his projects through, leaving nothing behind, to add to the WOW factor he was so gifted at producing and took such delight in.”
As an artist of visual design he transformed objects and spaces, large and small, into grand and detailed exclamations. He preferred glitter and items that shone, injecting rays of splendor into his world. A sublime power of art is its capacity to free us from our fixations on passion and aggression, and to see instead for a moment the untrammeled beauty that is here. Through both detail and vision, David was unyielding in his efforts to bring forth what he saw.
The magical and transformative element of his personality also appeared as his dedication to friends, in his wish to uplift and inspire. One friend was despondent in the midst of a marriage breakup and unable to see how she could continue in a house that carried too much past pain. David asked for her key, shooed her away, and when she returned, she found a new home, rich with hope and promise and David’s special luminous touches.
Nora also noted at his memorial, “It was my honor to know him, encourage him in his art, and enjoy his friendship. When my father passed away exactly a year ago tonight, he was there for me, all the way, with his support. He was by my side through every challenge, like packing me up—with my tiaras, my crowns, and my Diva Divine—when we had to evacuate because of the fires. His jeep was stuffed to the brim with beloved, bejeweled creations in every shape and form. We had to giggle, as it looked like a float in a gay parade.”
David is survived by his mother, younger brother John, and younger sister Denise, as well as four nieces and a nephew. They shared some of their recollections at the Sarah House memorial. John, who spent 22 years in the military, noted that he and David shared a bunk bed and many rich and typical childhood experiences. But it was one Halloween when he realized that David was different from him: John dressed as a gangster, and David went as Cleopatra.
Perhaps it is because David died so much sooner than we all feel he should have, or because it was so sudden, but his memory burns with a vivid brightness. Stars that shine in the daytime are invisible to most, but thankfully there were those evenings of glitter and glamour, and the sparkle of friendship and kindness contrasting darker moments, that still bring the keen magic and loving memory of David into our lives.