Christine Bravata has blended her love of art and horses with her training as a mental health professional to weather life’s storms and chart a course to success and personal fulfillment.
By combining her passions as an artist, equestrian and mental health professional, Christine Bravata has used art and animals to help autistic youth, veterans and at risk and abused children suffering from PTSD, through equine-assisted and art therapy. She is also a talented ceramicist who creates both fine art pieces and functional everyday wares that are sold locally at CC Fine Arts in Chelsea Square and Hats Off Boutique at The World Equestrian Center, as well as through her own Etsy shop.
“When I first spotted Christine’s work at the Ocala Arts Festival, I could see that it was special,” explains Cheryl Ritter, co-owner of the CC Fine Arts gallery. “I’ve always appreciated pottery and the many talented artists who work their magic in this complicated and demanding medium, but Christine stands out in that her way of handling clay is unique. Her style, use of color, her love of horses, the ocean, and her family are all represented in her work through her use of coral-like textures, equine-influenced pieces, honeycomb surfaces and other elements. Christine’s work is strongly influenced by her life and her personal experiences. That expressiveness allows her to share her thoughts, emotions and ideas through the creative process. And this lady has a lot to say!”
Indeed, Bravata’s life story is written on the pieces she handcrafts and that includes influences from her family, her core interests and her journey through some recent struggles. She was born and raised in the northeast, living in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania before relocating to Central Florida.
She identified several deep passions early on in life that allowed her to find her voice and carve out her own unique path.
“I have always loved art and I was always creating things with my hands as a kid,” she recalls. “My dad worked in construction, so I would build things with him. And my mom’s pretty artistic as well. They were not artists, but they always encouraged me to be creative. Art was sort of my own personal therapy at the time—art and writing. I wrote a lot of poetry. I sometimes put poetry on my pieces.”
Bravata has also found a way to incorporate her grandmother’s past work in her art.
“She was really a beautiful artist, in her own way. She worked on 7th Avenue in New York City making wedding dresses, doing all this intricate little sewing. It’s so perfect that it looks like a machine did it,” she shares. “I have a bunch of her pieces and I use a few of them as patterns. I press the fabric into the clay to imprint the texture onto the piece. In that way, I am also able to kind of keep her art alive in the world.”
Bravata had the opportunity to develop as an artist at an early age and always had her hand in something creative, but those early seeds would take time to grow.
“Anytime I could take an art class, I did. I took a ceramics class in high school and was basically hooked from then on. That was also when I fell in love with the pottery wheel,” she offers. “But I didn’t get back to the wheel again until much later in life. I got married and had four children. So, I took a long break to be a stay-at-home mom for about 20 years before I got back into it.”
But art wasn’t the only passion she reignited. She suffered some trauma early in her life and that led her to want to explore human nature at a closer level. She would also rekindle another love affair at this time—with horses.
“I went back for my master’s when my youngest child was about 2 or 3. I was always the friend that everybody came to with their problems, so psychology just seemed like a good fit for me because I wanted to figure out why people do the things that they do and maybe help victims of abuse. That’s what got me into equine assisted therapy because I also have a love of horses. I began riding when I was probably 2 or 3 years old. I always loved being around horses and wanted horses of my own, so during college I got back into riding and was finally able to own a horse,” Bravata shares. “And then, I wanted to put it all together. I wanted to be able to incorporate my three passions of psychology, art and my love of horses, so I started doing research and found that there were places that did equine assisted psychotherapy and I realized that was what I wanted to do as my career.”
This led her to several professional relationships with top programs in the Central Florida area, where she flourished working with special needs individuals and groups employing various therapies including nature, equine and art therapy. One of those experiences was at Stable Foundations, an equine assisted therapy program in Oviedo.
“The reason why we incorporate horses is not because they’re shamanistic creatures, but because they have the ability to mirror what we’re giving them in terms of nonverbal communication,” states the program’s founder and director Lorisa Lewis. “There’s kind of this instant feedback loop that happens with them and gives us another dimension of understanding of our relationship with other people, how we are carrying ourselves and what we’re putting out there in terms of our nonverbal communication. What made Christine wonderful with our clients and helping them to see things about themselves through their interactions with the horses, is her understanding from both her graduate work in psychology as well as from her vast experience as a horsewoman and how those two things dovetail. She has a deep understanding of the psychology of horses and how they think. She kind of speaks horse, if you will. She’s able to look at her client and what the horse is doing and then put those two things together in a way that adds up to an additional dimension of understanding for the human. Many of us who do this work develop sort of that understanding of horse language, but she’s really quite talented.”
Bravata’s professional success sadly came at a cost to her personal life at a moment when she was faced with a health crisis and was also dealing with the restrictions brought on by the pandemic.
“Once I did get back into work and was spending a lot of time working at these programs, it took me away from the house a lot, which led to some marital issues because my then-husband was wanting me to be home like I had been for all those years. And just before our divorce I found out that I had breast cancer and went through about a year of surgeries and chemo and radiation. The pandemic also initially meant nobody could be out in public groups, so things shifted and I had to take a break from a lot of things. When I finished my chemo and radiation, I decided I was going to just focus on my art and my horses. Now, I have a home studio on 10 acres and I can do private groups and have private clients here for pottery lessons and equine assisted learning. I also bought myself an RV and renovated it. I named her Freeda because I was free to go wherever the hell I wanted. She’s a symbol of this new chapter in my life and having to be faced with death and possibly leaving four children behind without a mother.”
The challenges ultimately led her to double down on her core passions.
“I have a new outlook on life, and I take much more time for myself, my kids and my joys, which is mostly my horses and my art,” she muses. “Those things are really my therapy and the way that I show my gratitude for being here—being on this earth and being able to take dirt from this earth and manipulate it in my hands to create something beautiful from clay.”
One of the things she struggled with as an artist was focusing on her sculptural pieces versus more practical items. which include everything from dishes and ornaments to pendant necklaces.
“I had so many people ask me for everyday things like mugs. And I thought, Am I really an artist if I’m making mugs?” she admits. “I decided to do it and I have so many people say, ‘I just love your mug and I have my coffee in it every morning. It just brings me so much joy.’ Or ‘I look at the horse and it reminds me of my mom who has passed away.’ So, now I look at my mugs a little bit differently. No, they’re not the big sculptural pieces that take me a month or more to make, but they are still art for somebody that maybe can’t afford a big giant piece. It’s functional art for every day is what I like to say. You know, when you experience a near-death experience like illness, you tend to become more in the moment. Exploring, creating, playing, being open to new ideas and just being able to let things go and go with the flow is very therapeutic. And working with clay allows you to kind of do that.” OS