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John Nava helps turn a Courthouse painting into a large tapestry

A combination of modern technology, classic painting and contemporary art combined on Wednesday to create a brand new look.

The Public Defender’s Office at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse welcomed a tapestry version of “The Landing of Cabrillo,” the 1924 painting by Daniel Sayre Groesbeck (1879-1950) that hangs outside the second floor Mural Room in the same building.

The tapestry was designed and fashioned by artist John Nava of Ojai, who discovered and championed the technology that creates complicated tapestries from photo sources.

The tapestry was a joint venture between the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission and the County Art in Public Places Committee, and organized by the commission’s Rita Ferri.

The choice of the Groesbeck painting, Ms. Ferri said, made sense not just because of the history of the work, but because it was “The Landing of Cabrillo” that earned Groesbeck a much larger commission: the entire mural room itself.

It also solved a physical problem in the lobby: bare walls creating so much echo that the people who work behind the desk and its thick glass partition couldn’t hear people talk clearly.

Already there’s a big improvement in the area, with the heavy tapestry, roughly 8-by-11 feet, dampening the sound, Ms. Ferri said.

When she was first asked to look into finding a tapestry for the area, there were problems.

“Unfortunately, older tapestries did not usually survive in good condition but their request led to a creative solution,” Ms. Ferri said.

She called on Mr. Nava, who paints in a classical realist style but in 1999 started working in tapestries.

Through modern computer-based looms, Mr. Nava can send a scan of an artwork, reduce

the millions of color variations down to around 160, and have a sort of “tapestry printer” recreate the work.

The main home for this multi-million dollar machine is at Flanders Tapestries in Belgium. The business mass-produces tapestries and fabrics for large corporations, but they also took on Mr. Nava’s work.

One of his first tapestries now hangs at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, and that was the commission that got him into this side work.

Mr. Nava laughs at the irony that his one piece of work hanging publicly is actually by another painter.

He took a large scan of the painting, “gigabytes and gigabytes size” he said, and not only decided on the palette to be used to recreate the colors, but also decided on the three-dimensionality of the piece. Some sections are raised while others are flat. Threads in the warp and weft combine to make different colors.

Mr. Nava then made tests

and had them shipped from Belgium to check. “You don’t really know the final colors until you see.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Nava was on hand to say a few words at the opening, but he believes the Groesbeck work speaks for itself. It now hangs at a level that invites careful study, unlike the original painting that is hung high above the floor and is dark due to age.

The idea of computer-based looms is an old one, actually. The Jacquard Loom, from the late 1700s, used a digital-like punchcard to program the machine to make patterns.

Mr. Nava said the choice of Groesbeck was a good one.

“He made these bravura, Cecil B. DeMille-like paintings with bold brush strokes, and that translated really well into the weaving.”

The tapestry is permanently on view in the Public Defender Lobby at the Courthouse, 1100 Anacapa St.

For more information on John Nava, check out: http://www.johnnavastudio.blogspot.com/

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