Mosaic artist brings Austinites into the larger picture of her work

Jose Gonzalez

Mosaic artist Stefanie Distefano knows how important little pieces are to the big picture. As an Austinite, she invites locals to contribute to her work in order to better represent the community at-large. 

In 2009, Distefano’s mosaic career took off when the city of Austin and many local businesses and neighborhoods began to commission her work. Distefano’s elaborate mosaics mainly consist of broken mirror glass and ceramic tile that reflect the space around it.

This past June, Distefano completed a Farrah Fawcett mural outside of Salon Sovay on Oltorf along with the help of several community members. Distefano said she has a very organic approach to her artwork and is always open to individuals taking part and sharing their vision.

“There’ll end up being 100 people working on a piece and it’s such a magical experience,” Distefano said. “My work is free-spirited and so openhearted that everybody finds their voice in it, which tells you something about Austin.”

Many of Distefano’s pieces pay tribute to Austin-born icons like Fawcett or the mural she made in honor of local DJ Larry Monroe in 2015 at Travis Heights. Several of her pieces also capture the unique aspects of neighborhoods and local customs that have had a personal effect on her.

“I once did a Dia de los Muertos piece that really sucked me into that whole tradition,” Distefano said. “There’s also one I did in Patterson Park with pink flamingos called Mitote. It was super inspired by the nature as well as the crazy characters and life in that neighborhood.”

Distefano said it’s difficult combining her own vision with the ideas that community members bring in, but for her the experience is more important than the outcome.

“There are a couple of people I work with constantly and we’ll have great debates, but if somebody has a passionate idea it’s usually right,” Distefano said.

For example, Darshan Jani, Distefano’s longtime collaborator, said the angels he designed for the Fawcett mural draw from African American inspiration. Jani said he was happy Distefano shared his vision and noticed a positive impact on the passing spectators.

“(The piece) was something bigger than Farrah, because for the black community it also represented a part of their neighborhood,” Jani said.

Devonte Barfield, who lives in the community, said Distefano’s inclusion of those diverse elements in her work has special significance for local residents.

“It’s great to have a piece that overtly shows diversity, and it tells the people in our community that we all matter,” Barfield said.

Distefano’s intricate style also fits like a puzzle piece into Austin’s live music scene. Madi Distefano, Stefani Distefano’s sister and owner of east side bar, Dozen Street, said she wanted her sister to decorate her bar because of the attention it would get from customers attending live performances.

“I have clientele walk in here and as soon as they see Stefanie’s beautiful mosaics and hear the bands play, they’ll say ‘this place feels just like old Austin,’” Madi Distefano said. “It’s not about commissions or having a specific vision. Stefanie just wants to decorate her world.”

Stefanie Distefano said she can’t disclose her next public work, but she is currently working on smaller, more intimate project. As her career moves forward, Distefano said she wants her art to surprise people and reveal something about Austin they didn’t notice before.

“I’m doing a piece in my own bathroom, and my niece drew the images so I’m really inspired and have never had this much fun before,” Distefano said. “I want my art to bring something unexpected. When you look at it, you may not know something’s there but you feel it.”