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Whale House Spawns Jade and Mermaids

Jeff Spangler Hunts for Jade and Fishes for Mermaids


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

MISSION CANYON WHALE WATCHING: Anyone who has ever looked closely at architect Michael Carmichael’s Whale House, which is embedded in Mission Creek on Andante Road in Santa Barbara, will know that it would take a very unusual kind of person to call that particular structure home. Inspired by the fantastic imagination of Antonio Gaudí, the sprawling shingle-covered structure contains a custom elevator, an indoor-outdoor heated pool, and several idiosyncratic bedrooms, but not a single straight line or right angle. The project, which was begun in the 1970s and then abandoned by the builder some three years and one million (!) shingles later, has become a source of singular pride, even as it requires the constant attention of its current resident, jade artist Jeff Spangler. “See that?” Spangler asked me as we crane our necks to look up at the outside of the eaves that overhang the house’s third floor aerie. “Bees love it in there. We’ve tried to transplant them, but they always find their way back. I know we’re supposed to be sensitive to the plight of the bees right now, and I am, but when every night before you go to bed you have to sweep bees out from under the covers, well, that’s a bit inconvenient, don’t you think?”

Spangler, who is the sponsor and chief architect of this weekend’s mermaid pageant at the Lucidity Festival, has lots of friends and nothing but respect for Mother Nature. In fact, it’s this combination of a strong curiosity about the earth and an equally robust desire to connect with other people that has made Spangler one of the world’s most successful harvesters and carvers of jade. He routinely travels between his claims in Northern California and his studio near the Funk Zone, toting large blocks of this precious substance that he discovers prowling the streambeds of the Sierra foothills. Once Spangler has captured his prey — or, as he likes to put it, once “the stones have found me” — he returns to his workbench, where, with the aid of high-speed diamond drills and an encyclopedic knowledge of world mythology, he creates a variety of jade objects, ranging from the large mounted sculptures known as suiseki, or “waterstones,” to gorgeous, nearly silent jade fountains; ornate netsuke that can be inlaid with gold or other contrasting precious stones; and fantastic original jade sculpture and jewelry.

For Spangler, the collaboration with the Lucidity Festival was a perfect fit, in part because of a piece that he keeps in a case by the door at the Whale House, a sculpture of a mermaid that has long been a conversation piece for visitors to this unorthodox home. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a woman who was drawn to that particular piece look at it for a long time and then turn to me and say, ‘You know, I’m a mermaid,’” he tells me. Ever obliging, Spangler has devoted the last few months to realizing this dream, first acquiring, and then, when many of them proved to be too heavy, designing his own prosthetic mermaid tails for the more than a dozen women who will perform this weekend. What has this to do with jade, you might ask? As it turns out, everything. As Spangler explains it, “Jade originally comes from the center of the ocean floor, and it’s among the hardest of all stones, which is why it has been traditionally used to make blades and cutting tools called celts. In Chinese cosmological terms, jade is complete and total yang, which makes it the perfect complement to the feminine force of yin.” And that’s why, when these mermaids splash to the surface of the special pool that Spangler is constructing for Lucidity, they will be bringing jade with them. For more information about jade and about Jeff Spangler’s art, visit jadehunter.com. For more on Lucidity, visit lucidityfestival.com.

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