Before the Solstice Parade travels up State Street toward Alameda Park, its elements get built and painted in a fine frenzy of collaborative creation at the Community Arts Workshop (CAW) on lower Garden Street. The CAW’s corner lot, with its two warehouse buildings, has seen many incarnations including periods as a motor pool and a recycling center. To celebrate arriving at this current state of highest and best use, the Santa Barbara Arts Collaborative — the group that created the CAW — has, with help from Santa Barbara Beautiful, commissioned a pair of magnificent sculptured gates from ironwork artist David Shelton. Although the Summer Solstice gate — destined for the Ortega Street entrance to the property — is still in process, the Winter Solstice gate on Garden Street is virtually finished and fully functional. When the floats start rolling out onto Garden Street for this year’s parade, they will move through the city’s freshest and most impressive example of public art in decades.
The spectacular narrative composition of Shelton’s Winter Solstice can be seen in different ways. Like the closed gate, it’s a coherent and monumental statement, and like the gate when it opens, it swings. Drawing on ancient Greek, Babylonian, Chinese, and Chumash traditions, the artist has given the city an image of its “axis mundi,” the spiritual navel of our world where heaven and earth meet and communicate. On the left, Pan disguised as Capricorn saves Jupiter from the terrible god/monster Typhon. On the right, Jupiter’s thunderbolt cracks the earth and reveals Mt. Etna. Further to the same side, this gift of fire becomes the Chumash bark torch, and in the center we see the night sky represented in the astrological house of Sagittarius. An iron oriflamme flies above it all, binding the poles of the piece into a single highly expressive arch.
When the floats, dancers, and various avatars of solstice glide through the gate onto Garden Street this Saturday, it will be the first time that they have done so through a ceremonial structure created with them in mind. It will be, in its own way, as dramatic a moment as any of the mythological ones depicted around them — an entry into a new era for the parade and for the city.
By Paul Wellman