This short film by UCSB professor and veteran documentarian Christopher Jenkins follows artist-architect Jeff Shelton as he ropes the creative community into decorating the outside of a colorful house at 521 Santa Barbara Street.
How did you get into this story?
I’ve been friends with Jeff and his amazing family for a few years now and he just asked me one day if I’d be interested in capturing the Vera Cruz House as it progressed. I began shooting images for the film in March of 2013, rigging cameras that could stay in place for extended periods of time and, on important production days, I brought in UCSB Alum Cory Cullington. After some convincing from Jeff, I was recruited to do a few paintings myself, which ended up being scenes from Queensland, Australia, and South Sudan.
Does Jeff get special treatment from our notoriously rigid city design officials? I don’t think that Jeff gets special treatment from the city, but I haven’t been into city meetings. From what I’ve witnessed, he gets projects approved because his preparation goes above and beyond the expectations of city officials. He has pushed the limits often enough to know where the boundaries are. It seems his art thrives within these areas, teaming up with Dan Upton and his crew who have the skills to deliver on Jeff’s vision. Jeff has quite a track record with buildings that have become landmarks, and often win the Santa Barbara Beautiful awards: structures like El Andaluz, the Cota Street Studios, the Ablitt House, El Jardin, and now the Vera Cruz House.
Any more projects in the works?
One of my favorite projects in the works is with Dr. Luc Maes, who has been exploring the planet for “lost crops” whose potential for health and economic opportunity are undiscovered or under-utilized. He recently invited me to join him, Jaime Matera, and Tom Cole on a trip to northern Ghana where they have been developing a partnership with local communities to make use of the fruit of the Baobab tree, much of which goes uncollected. The pulp naturally dries in the pod, is then pounded into a powder and added to just about any food. The powder is packed with health benefits and the seeds can be pressed into various types of oils. It has also been fascinating to find out the cultural significance of the trees, why they build their homes next to these trees, and why they treat them with such reverence.