Stephan Seable had been drawing and painting since he was a boy. In the 1950s his prowess as a ballet dancer took him all over Oregon.
But something magical happened when he dug his fingers into some clay.
“It did something to me inside,” he said. “It was like ‘whoa, where has this been?’ … You can do anything with it, it’s just beautiful.”
It’s been about 60 years since he began sculpting. Now at 77, Seable, who lives in Grants Pass, draws on his past experience with ballet as well as inspiration from the Bible to create sculptures both in clay and bronze. His work is currently on display at the Gallery of Arts and Culture.
Seable, whose paintings are also on display at the gallery, will conduct a demonstration of his craft during the Crescent City Summer Art Walk on June 6 at the Gallery of Arts and Culture. His demonstration will also feature examples of several works in progress including a maquette, or model, of a life-size seated Christ.
“A lot of people ask about bronze casting so I’ll bring some molds,” Seable said. “Bronze is such incredible material.”
Seable was born in Springfield, Idaho, and moved with his family to Portland, Ore. when he was 4. He grew up drawing and painting and became a dancer in the 1950s with the Young Oregonian Troop. He said he appeared on television half a dozen times with his partner, who wanted to break into the film industry. But, Seable said, a construction accident ended his ballet career.
“I drove heavy equipment and was on a crane one morning in winter,” he said. “The crane hit a power line and took 57,000 volts of electricity, and it just changed my life really quickly. I nearly lost my legs. The helmet melted off my head. That stopped me from dancing.”
After the accident, Seable went back to school and became a teacher and a sculptor. Over the years, he taught in Pittsburg and Concord in California.
Seable said he starts his bronze sculptures by working with clay or wax to create a model, which is turned into a mold. More wax is then poured into the mold and covered with plaster or perlite or another fire-resistant material that can take a lot of heat and is then put into a kiln and fired at 700 degrees.
This vaporizes the wax and leaves a hole the same shape as the original model, Seable said. He then pours 2,200-degree melted bronze into the hole.
“It pours like cream, and if you haven’t got any moisture or wax left and you’ve done it right, then you will have a casting,” Seable said, adding that the piece could turn into a steam bomb if there is still moisture in it. “It’s careful and it’s long, and if you make a mistake, you’re back to zero. A little piece costs more than $1,000 just to cast. And making a mold of it is usually another $1,000. You may have $2,000 in your first piece.”
This will be Seable’s first visit to the Gallery of Arts and Culture, said owner Barbara Burke.
“He’s a really nice, really interesting person and brilliantly talented,” she said. “Our community is so lucky to have so many artists locally and nearby.”
The Crescent City Summer Art Walk will take place from 4–7 p.m. on June 6. It will be the first of a series of art walks held every other month during the summer, Burke said.
Seable’s art can be seen at the Gallery of Arts and Culture at 175 H Street in Crescent City.