Tuesday Talk Series  artist: 2/3/2009

The Sculptures of Tesi Sanchez-Halpert are welded bits and pieces of steel discards made new through her imagination, sense of humor and zest for life.

They will arouse your curiosity, make you smile or laugh out loud and, as with the best of indigenous and folk art, inform.

Tesi’s journey as an artist began with her childhood, growing up on a ranch in the Malibu hills. She and her siblings were encouraged to use their imaginations, to create playthings out of discards.

That nurturing childhood through her life-threatening stroke in 2004, and all the pieces of life in between, inspire her work.

In the beginning the constructions were simple, created to amuse herself and her friends.  As she gained skill and confidence in herself as an artist , her concepts became more sophisticated and complex.

After the stroke and with the return of normal sight she now works with greater appreciation for surface texture and patterns as they exist in nature.

She is an inspiration and to hear her story is a gift.

By Brett Johnson

December 26, 2006
Tesi Sanchez-Halpert

On childhood hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains near Thousand Oaks, Tesi Sanchez-Halpert often would see animals and wildlife. Once in a while, she’d wander over to the scrap metal pile her dad, a heavy equipment operator, kept on the rustic ranch.

At the house, her mom would remind her to "live well, laugh often and love much." Years later, when Sanchez-Halpert started sculpting art from steel, her dad’s pile became source material and the animals she loved became the subjects. Her mother’s words guided her art, informed her philosophy.

All this came full circle — even deepened — in the face of near tragedy, in this case a stroke Sanchez-Halpert suffered nearly three years ago.

She’s emerged from the long days and months of that darkness and struggle with a buoyant, playful new art exhibit running through Jan. 13 at the Buenaventura Gallery in Ventura.

The title, Laughter Really IS the Best Medicine, harks back to her mother’s words; the motto, Sanchez-Halpert said, is truer than ever.

Animals remain the subjects of what she welds and sculpts from steel; her dad’s metal pile on the ranch off Yerba Buena Road still supplies pieces, though Sanchez-Halpert said "I’ve been known to jump a Dumpster or two" with a laugh.

Yes, it truly is the best tonic, said Sanchez-Halpert, a 51-year-old Moorpark resident.

"I’ve always liked to make people smile and laugh and, especially now after my stroke, I’m just happy to be alive and I like to spread the joy of being alive," she said.

Joy certainly flits through her art. Her metal menagerie includes dragonflies, horses, frogs, dogs, cats, turtles, fish and birds — often placed in odd, whimsical situations. For example, there’s chickens on a playground slide and biker "chicks" on a motorcycle she made from scraps.

"I just love to see nature," Sanchez-Halpert said. "Growing up on a ranch, you appreciate it."

The fun-loving nature of her art and her outlook belie how difficult the past 34 months have been. The February 2004 stroke gave her double vision, robbed her of her balance and left her unable to speak fluidly.

A stint at a rehabilitation hospital followed. For a while, three different therapists came to her home twice a week. Then came months of intense physical therapy in the gym to regain her strength.

Doubts crept in. The bouts of seeing everything in double left her wondering if she’d be able to resume her art. "That was very much in jeopardy," she said.

She wore an eye patch, alternating over right and left. Eventually, she regained her vision.

She tried in September 2004 to go back to work at Oxnard’s Channel Islands High School, where she was a physical education teacher for 25 years, but it was short-lived; the load was too much, and she stopped in January 2005.

"I can’t handle stress anymore," Sanchez-Halpert said. "It’s another reason why I like to do my art work."

She was able to relearn how to weld. In April 2005, she started creating art again, and she began on this exhibit shortly thereafter.

She’s planning a similar show in Moorpark next year in which all proceeds will go toward stroke research.

Sanchez-Halpert still must take special drops to help her eyes, and they do tire in the evenings at times.

Her balance is OK but wavers when she’s tired. Her speech is a bit halting but fully intelligible.

None of this has crushed her spirit; in some ways, it’s blossomed anew. The ordeal has changed her and her art.

Aside from the simple yet undervalued realization that it’s wonderful to be alive, Sanchez-Halpert has learned to take nothing for granted.

She better appreciates her husband — who she said was "very, very supportive" throughout, helping her with such previously breezy tasks as bathing — family and friends.

On the artistic side, Sanchez-Halpert said she believes she is more attentive to detail.

"When I was finally able to see just one image, I would walk around with my therapist and just be amazed by the sight of a leaf," she said.

Or the way water rolls down the glass in the shower, or a host of mundane things "that we overlook in our busy lives."

She is thankful for her art career, which started with Ventura County Fair entries and art walks from Malibu to Santa Barbara, blushed with encouragement from pros who told her she was very good and flowered in 1999, when she began showing and selling her works successfully.

She’s thankful for her ranch upbringing and her parents, Pepe and Ruth, for giving her that artistic streak.

"We didn’t have a good TV," she said, "and you can’t roller-skate on dirt. You have to find other things to do, and there’s so much to do to exercise your creativity when you are out in the country."

She is looking at things in ways that are both new and old, a vision fresh off tragedy and yet as deep as the comforting wisdom of experience and family.

Tesi Sanchez-Halpert
Community tie: Moorpark resident.
Age: 51.

What up: Has a new exhibit, Laughter Really IS the Best Medicine, running now through Jan. 13 at the Buenaventura Gallery, 700 E. Santa Clara St. (Gallery hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays. Information: 648-1235 or

Forces that shape: The exhibit, featuring metal sculptures of various animals often put in whimsical or playful settings, comes on the heels of a debilitating stroke Sanchez-Halpert suffered in February 2004.

Family: Husband, Daniel Halpert, owns and operates an X-ray laboratory. Son Joshua, 19, is learning to be a heavy equipment operator.

Earlier days: Grew up on a ranch off Yerba Buena Road in the Santa Monica Mountains south of Thousand Oaks. Was a physical education teacher for 25 years at Oxnard’s Channel Islands High School. She also is a graduate of the school. 


Press Release

A Tesi Sculptures Receives 2009 Best of Moorpark Award

U.S. Commerce Association’s Award Plaque Honors the Achievement

WASHINGTON D.C., June 8, 2009 -- A Tesi Sculptures has been selected for the 2009 Best of Moorpark Award in the Sculptor's Studio category by the U.S. Commerce Association (USCA).

The USCA "Best of Local Business" Award Program recognizes outstanding local businesses throughout the country. Each year, the USCA identifies companies that they believe have achieved exceptional marketing success in their local community and business category. These are local companies that enhance the positive image of small business through service to their customers and community.

Various sources of information were gathered and analyzed to choose the winners in each category. The 2009 USCA Award Program focused on quality, not quantity. Winners are determined based on the information gathered both internally by the USCA and data provided by third parties.