Sculpting Love With Art: Local Artist Stephan Seable
It was nearing the end of the Great Depression when sculptor Stephan Seable moved to Portland as a young child. Surrounded by the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest and the encouragement from family to pursue his great desire for art, Seable’s creations leave an indelible signature of his deep-rooted love for people and the planet.
“Though we were of limited means, my mother took advantage of the culture in Portland, and took us to the art museums and galleries and to the ballet,” Seable says.
Lining an upper shelf alcove in his home are some of his adagio dance figurines, their forms captured in mid-air. It was while he was in high school that a friend invited him to perform the art of adagio dancing.
“She said her ballet teacher wanted her to find a boy who could lift her. She only weighed 120 pounds,” he laughs. “I said I’m sure I could.”
Seable toured with her in a traveling vaudeville troupe sponsored by The Oregonian newspaper, performing as the “Steve and Shirley” team. KOIN Channel 6 in Portland spotlighted the couple several times and they began earning some local notoriety, even Hollywood potential.
“She really wanted to go to California, but I wanted to go on a (church) mission,” he explains. “We were considering this when the accident happened, and boy, that dead-ended everything.”
At age 20, while working in construction, Seable was horrifically electrocuted on a jobsite. After nearly six months in the hospital, he miraculously walked out and started studies at Portland State, in medical illustration. But it was a sculpting class by art professor Frederic Littman that completely redirected his life.
Seable became his assistant, working year round in his studio, even learning the intricate lost wax process, and eventually helped Littman establish the first foundry in the Pacific Northwest.
“He was sort of the ‘father of sculpture’ in the Northwest and before he came along all bronze casting was sent to the east coast and then shipped back!” he recollects. “You can imagine the horror.”
Seable went on to earn a Masters in Sculpture and Design at BYU in Utah and then settled in the Bay Area, becoming an educator for over 30 years. He retired to Grants Pass and stayed busy with commissioned works, which are now found throughout the world.
Some outstanding works include 30 years, and nearly 100 award plaques, for the St. Louis Steel Guitar Hall of Fame, and a life-sized bronze sculpture of two children and their dog commissioned for the grounds of the Oakland, California’s LDS Temple. At the Three Rivers Hospital in Grants Pass, visitors are greeted by a waterfall with his sculpture of leaping salmon and the Oregon landscape.
“Perhaps the richest piece I enjoyed was for Major General John Hancock,” he says. “He was a great lover of art and his place was just wonderful to visit.”
The two became friends and Hancock commissioned a life-size sculpture of himself, reading a book, to be placed on a bench for his grandkids to enjoy.
“Pat, his wife, loved the statue,” he shares. “While I was away on a teaching mission to China she passed suddenly from cancer.”
Upon Seable’s return, Hancock asked his artist friend to build a statue of Pat, seated next to his own sculpture.
“They’re both gone now, but their bronze is there forever,” he says.
A stroke a few years ago has slowed his process for large bronze works but when he isn’t working on commissions he is exploring quick, colorful paint sketches and completing unfinished works discovered in his shop.
“Inspiration is constant, you know, and it’s kind of fun to be doing something for myself now,” he says. “I hope my art inspires love for this beautiful planet we live on and the love and importance of family.”