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Laguna Beach

 Volume 11, Issue 100  | December 13, 2019


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Sculptor Stephanie Bachiero Blake: A life story – and art – with many twists and turns

By LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Less than eighteen months after a three-story fall that resulted in serious brain injury – rendering then 21-year-old Stephanie Bachiero unable to talk or walk, broken in mind and body – her therapist, watching her progress slowly toward recovery, handed her a Saddleback College catalogue.

“Time to exercise that brain,” the therapist said, or words to that effect. 

Through the fog of her damaged cognitive abilities, Stephanie, determined once again to be self-sufficient, couldn’t have been happier at the suggestion, even though at that point she was barely able to communicate verbally. 

Touch would be her savior.

“At the time of my fall, I had been studying at Boston College, planning to become a lawyer,” she says. “With the damage to my critical thinking skills, I realized I’d have to find a new career. I looked at different courses at Saddleback but most were fully booked – except for a ceramics class. So I enrolled. And I was hooked.”

Sweetly-spoken Stephanie says that sculpting with clay during those classes engaged her mind and hands and allowed her to explore facets of her being that she never knew existed. 

“I had lost my ability to think critically but had gained intuitive qualities and a sense of unfettered optimism,” she recalls. 

Inspiration is followed by nurturing, focus and patience

Subsequently she chose to work with porcelain, a temperamental clay that demands intensive nurturing, focus, and patience – the same qualities necessary to recover from brain trauma as severe as Stephanie’s. 

Sculptor Stephanie portrait

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Stephanie Bachiero Blake

“The properties of porcelain were a metaphor for my recovery. Art brought me into the light,” Stephanie says. “Sculpting and working with my hands enabled my cognitive abilities. My mind recovered through my hands.”

The sculptor adds wryly, “Porcelain is extremely challenging and unforgiving. If porcelain feels like exploding in the kiln, it will, and more often than not, it will be your favorite work. It reminds you who’s the boss quite often.” 

The art born of Stephanie’s trauma is remarkable. In her sunny canyon studio, she bends and flexes her sculptures into shapes that are ethereal yet at the same time sturdy, that seem to float yet are anchored in reality – and to the wall or floor. 

Now, 15 years after that ceramics course and 16 since her accident, she is internationally known for sinuous sculptures, some of which have been juried into the New York Armory Show and exhibited at the Laguna Art Museum and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. – and, of course, at the Peter Blake Gallery. 

And she’s been flying high since she hired a fabricator who works on stealth bombers for the military. 

“He’s always encouraging me to dream bigger,” she says. “Over the last few years I have turned to casting my works in metal. I’ve also worked with the 3D process where my small sculptures are realized in a scale previously unobtainable. They can be as large as 20 feet tall and wide.”

Sculptor Stephanie sculpture

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One of Stephanie’s sinuous sculptures in her studio

Stephanie’s pieces are generally white, beige or metallic hues, though some spectacular works are cobalt blue. Recently, the City of Newport Beach acquired Pinnacle, which is displayed in the rotating sculpture garden.

Her favorite piece is a work called Push, a word that encapsulates her relentless drive toward full recovery. 

“It’s a very sensual form that appears to be holding up a wall. I love how it projects so much strength and yet is so feminine,” she says.

Music, too, has become vital to her, the soundtrack of her work.

“We [she and her gallery owner husband Peter Blake] don’t have a TV but we do have an incredible stereo and listen to records every chance we get. Despite my hearing loss from the accident, I’ve taught myself how to listen more acutely,” Stephanie says. 

“I’ve learned to hear the difference between MP3, CD, and vinyl. There’s nothing like experiencing music on a great stereo. I love Alt Country, Folk, and 70s rock. There are some contemporary bands I really enjoy as well. I love Ryan Adams! I listen to music all day long.”

Becoming a politician’s wife

Last year brought a new challenge into Stephanie’s life – becoming a politician’s wife after Peter ran for and won a seat on the City Council. Stephanie giggles at the word “politician” being applied to her husband.

“I still struggle to say that word,” she says. “Politician!”

Sculptor stephanie work

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Stephanie at work in her studio in the Canyon

Stephanie met Peter back in 2007 through a series of coincidences: her best friend was Peter’s dentist’s daughter (got that?), Vanessa Vigoren. Vanessa invited Stephanie to an art opening at Bloomingdale’s. 

“Peter was there. At the time I had no idea who he was. I was intrigued by him. He asked me about my art and invited us to go back to his place for an after-party. He wanted me to ‘see his ceramic collection’ (quite the come-on line). I don’t think I ever left.

“[Going forward] he accepted me for who I was and never judged me. At the time I had not fully recovered socially. He brought me into his world. I suddenly found myself socializing five nights a week surrounded by artists, curators, critics, and collectors. It was a whirlwind. Needless to say, I was forced to recover. I had no choice!”

Stephanie says that she is thrilled to have made new friends outside the art world that normally consumes her as a result of her husband’s newfound politician status.

“The campaign was exhausting but exciting, and it opened me up to a new world. I love going to the City Council meetings. I have so many new friends now.”

The two of them prefer to eat raw vegan meals at home – “though sometimes we cheat,” she admits. 

Stephanie says she rises each day just glad to be breathing. 

From trauma to bliss

“Technically I ‘died’ so every single day is a blessing for me. I’m super happy and content working in the third dimension. Designing exhibitions at the gallery has become another art form for me. It turns into a large and multi-faceted artwork in and of itself. During my recovery I worked with jigsaw puzzles. Installing shows at the gallery was a natural progression from them.”

Sculptor stephanie studio space

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Stephanie Blake with her artwork

She remains eternally grateful for her friends and family.

“I was driven by guilt over the sorrow I had caused them. I couldn’t let them or myself down. I was also fortunate to have gifted therapists who inspired me to rise above my limitations,” she makes sure to note.

And Stephanie is sublimely happy to live in Laguna Beach, where her favorite activities include yoga with Bob Metzler and the simple joys of shopping at Whole Foods and seeing friends.

“Laguna is the most incredible place in the world! It is art. The ocean, hills, light, and weather form the backdrop for my life. I’m never at a loss for inspiration in Laguna,” she adds.

And with that, our interview is nearly over. Stephanie has work to do – the following day, she and Peter would be heading off to Design Miami. 

But she can’t resist reiterating one more time her excitement with her career and her affection for the husband she adores and the gallery he owns. 

“My involvement with the gallery allows me to explore the many facets of running a business so I’m fulfilled in many ways. I love traveling to major cities and representing the gallery and its artists,” Stephanie concludes. 

“There is always that moment when a show opens and the adrenaline kicks in. The months of planning, hard work, and sleepless nights are over and there’s a sense of pride and accomplishment that rivals any high I know. I can’t imagine doing anything else!”

 

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut is our Chief Photographer.

Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Lynette Brasfield, Marrie Stone, Maggi Henrikson, Samantha Washer, and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists. Scott Brashier is our photographer.

Stacia Stabler is our Social Media Manager & Writer.

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