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Carpinteria company pivots from art to frontline medical gear

CARPINTERIA, Calif. - There is no shortage of the can-do American spirit these days; people stepping up in their homes and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, doing whatever they can to help others during the crisis.

Portia de Rossi and her brother, Michael Rogers, assemble multi-purpose shields in their Carpinteria warehouse. (Photo: Beth Farnsworth)

General Public, a company based in Carpinteria, has quietly joined the national ranks but in this case, with an artistic twist, featuring sibling star-power.

"Come on in," said a masked and gloved Portia de Rossi, as she waved us inside a massive warehouse off Linden Avenue. "We just opened
this factory about five months ago."

The well-known actress, who is married to comedian and television host, Ellen DeGeneres, launched a new career in large-scale art replication roughly two years ago. de Rossi's brother, Michael Rogers, is her business
partner and founder of General Public.

General Public specializes in textured art replications. (Photo: Beth Farnsworth)

Together, the siblings invested in a host of upscale printing materials and large, MULTICAM digital cutters. Eventually, they teamed up with Restoration Hardware to replicate original artwork at a more affordable cost for the consumer. Their roster, which includes dozens of artists worldwide, is submission based.

"This used to be a lemon packing warehouse," de Rossi said, as we toured the site.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced their creative operation to shut down and pushed them in a new direction.

"The second that this all happened it was just devastating," Rogers said. "We thought, 'Oh my goodness, all this nice, new equipment! What are we going to do with it?'"

Michael Rogers stretches out a PETG plastic sheet used to make the shields.
(Photo: Herb Tuyay)

Rogers contacted executives at MULTICAM.

"What can we cut on this other than canvas?" Rogers asked. "They said, 'Well, we're actually producing a face shield. Would you like to partner with us?' I said, 'Absolutely.'"

Portia de Rossi talks to reporter Beth Farnsworth about General Public's dual role during the pandemic. (Photo: Herb Tuyay)

"They sent us the pattern and we became part of their network of folks who can actually make these multi-shields and distribute them to healthcare workers and hospitals that need them," de Rossi said. "They're not FDA approved so that's why we can make them at facilities like ours. We try to keep as clean as possible and make sure we're within all of the guidelines."

That includes wearing masks and gloves at all times during production. So far, the brother-sister team has assembled more than 800 of the multi-shields.

General Public is shipping hundreds of multi-purpose protective face shields across the country. (Photo: Beth Farnsworth)

"My brother's job is to work the machinery because I couldn't," de Rossi said with a laugh. "So, he works the digital cutter and weeds -- it's called "weeding" when you actually take the mask out of the plastic --  and then I assemble them."

The multi-shields are made of PETG, a thin, durable form of plastic used for 3D printing; the material is now highly coveted and difficult to find during the pandemic.

de Rossi and Rogers are shipping their supplies to hospitals and clinics, coast to coast.

Portia de Rossi and wife Ellen DeGeneres have personally delivered the protective shields to local hospitals and first responders. (Photo: Beth Farnsworth)

"We wanted to take care of our local community first so we reached out to Sansum and the (Ridley-Tree) Cancer Center," de Rossi said.

Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and Montecito Fire also received supplies from General Public, as did Housing Works, a non-profit in New York helping those with AIDS and homelessness. The east coast facility has set up a special division dedicated to those with COVID-19.

Rogers, who is also a private pilot, has personally delivered shipments to area hospitals and health care centers serving the Navajo Nation in Page
and Chinle, AZ as well as healthcare facilities in New Mexico.

"It was pretty amazing and we hope to do more of that," de Rossi said.

Both said it is hard work and they have a newfound respect for assembly line workers.

"My thumbs .... I can't tell you how much they hurt because the plastic is very thin and it shreds these gloves," de Rossi said, holding up her blue-gloved hands.

The personal pride the brother-sister team is taking in the work is apparent and far outweighs any discomfort during the tedious and repetitive process.

"We really wanted to do something with this facility, we couldn't just let it sit here," Rogers said. "At least we could manage to keep the lights on and do some good."

"We just figured if we could do something then we should," de Rossi said. "So, I'm kind of splitting my days between the Ellen Show at home and coming in here and making shields. It's been a blessing that we could do this for folks."

Once the world returns to "normal," whatever that entails, de Rossi and Rogers will switch their MULTICAM gears and get back to the canvas of art making.

For more information about General Public, click the following link: https://home.generalpublic.art/

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Beth Farnsworth

Beth Farnsworth is the evening anchor for KEYT NewsChannel 3.