Samanta Tello with her piece "Silenced Voices of Everyday Sheroes"
Samanta Tello with her piece "Silenced Voices of Everyday Sheroes"

Spanish artist Samanta Tello left her ‘heart’ in San Francisco

Like many immigrants — maybe all — Samanta Tello can feel her heart beat, metaphorically, in two places at once. The artist born in Spain came to San Francisco as a young adult and fell in love with both the city and a man. They married twice, once in each place.

So it is more than fitting that her latest work of art — a large sculpture of a heart covered with images of women from around the world — will likely find a permanent place in San Francisco, just as the artist did some 18 years ago.

Tello’s piece is one of eight large heart sculptures (and 23 smaller ones) included this year in the 15th annual Hearts in SF auction to benefit the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation. Some of the large hearts will be installed at public locations that will be revealed soon after the auction closes at midnight on Valentine’s Day.

Each participating artist was asked to make something unique on the blank slate of a three-dimensional heart form.Tello found inspiration in the global movement toward female empowerment and her sense of the commonality of women’s experiences within patriarchal cultures.

“The status of women in Spain is pretty much the same as here,” she says. “And the U.S. has such a huge influence in the world. Whatever happens here, happens there: Women are coming forward to express their truths.”

Her design, titled “Silenced Voices of Everyday Sheroes,” is made from wood materials stained black, brown, tan and white. It also uses acrylic paint and silver and 24-karat gold leaf.

The female figures are both distinct in the cultures they represent and interconnected, like pieces of a puzzle. Each woman, each culture, is a part of a whole that would be incomplete if even one were absent.

“I wanted to express the feeling women have of not being heard in everyday life,” she says. “It’s such a common thing in every culture. I wanted to express that in the piece and at same time show them together, interconnected. They are building strength together, acknowledging one another.”

Tello was born in Barcelona in 1972 and raised in Madrid, where she studied fine arts at the Complutense University of Madrid. She moved to California as a graphic artist, and continues that career in tandem with her personal work as an artist.

Working in wood was one result of her immigration: Inspired by the splendor of the trees in this area, she started drawing and painting trees on the wood as well as integrating pyrography and wood stains into her other work.

Like most Spaniards, Tello was raised in the Catholic tradition, but became interested in Judaism when she met her future husband, Sam Trachtenberg. Trachtenberg’s father, Max, was a Holocaust survivor from Austria who emigrated to Guatemala, where Sam was born. The family came to the U.S. in 1982, when Sam was 10, and he moved to San Francisco as an adult for work.

Once engaged, Sam and Samanta attended classes for interfaith couples at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, and Samanta also took classes toward conversion.

“The more I learned about Judaism the more I liked it,” she affirms.

Although she didn’t complete the process, her mentor, an Emanu-El rabbi, flew to Spain to officiate at their 2004 Jewish wedding.

They now have two daughters; the elder attends religious school at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco, while the younger goes to Congregation Beth Sholom.

Because she’s the mother of girls, and because of the current political climate, Tello says her artistic focus has evolved, spurring her desire to bring attention to women’s and girls’ issues.

“People may say that female oppression is of the past, but I watch what is happening now, and I see my daughters and think, ‘What can I do to help, to make them stronger?’”

Tello says that as an immigrant, as well, she wanted to represent and celebrate the cultural diversity of San Francisco and the sisterhood that she sees as necessary among women of all races and origins.

Her previous work was selected for exhibitions at the 2018 United State of Women Summit, the 2018 GEO National Conference, and at many galleries. She was the winner of the 2018 visual contest of “So to Speak: The Feminist Journal of Language and Art.”

Her heart piece, and all the others, are available for purchase at eBay.com/HeartsinSF through Thursday, Feb. 14. The annual Hearts in SF fundraiser will take place at Pier 48 the night before; for tickets and information, visit sfghf.org/events.

Tello said that the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh happened during the four intense weeks she spent making her heart piece, and it lit her up with a sense of purpose.

“I felt that I could at least do my part with regards to the goings on in this political climate. That at least I was doing something with my art.”

Laura Pall
Laura Paull

Laura Paull is J.'s Culture Editor, and was a longtime J. freelance writer before that.