BUILDING A HOUSE OF GLASS
A Sarasota couples' love of glass art shows well at home
By Nichole L. Reber
When Dr. Richard and Barbara Basch started collecting glass knick-knacks in 1993, no one could have foreseen that more than a dozen years later, their collection would make them participants of the Tampa Museum of Art’s new inventory.
The extensive collection, as seen in the living room highlights the Basches’ variety of taste.
During those years the Basches went from art glass hobbyists, to entertaining some of the world’s most renowned glass artists and traveling the globe in search of their next purchase. The jump from enthusiasts to bona fide collectors occurred when the Sarasota couple attended a Chihuly exhibition in Tampa at the invitation of Susan Baisden, owner of the Baisden Gallery. “They have a great eye and are very decisive in what they like,” said Baisden, who currently represents 12 glass artists. “By buying what they like, Richard and Barbara have supported many up-and-coming artists.”
On a loveseat in their library, the couple sits beneath a Chihuly piece that the artist’s crew actually built into the wall. Few people will sit there, they explain, because the breathtaking aesthetic, labyrinthine installation seems to crawl out of the wall, sprawling right above your head.
“We didn’t know who Chihuly was,” said Barbara. “We were just blown away and bought our first piece at that show. At that time, we had just gotten to know the director of the museum.” Since then, the couple has loaned and donated several pieces to the Tampa Museum of Art.
(from left) Purple Seaform, Putti Ikebana, Blue and White Macchia with Orange Lip Wrap. Chihuly dominates the corner office.
“Right now we’ve sort of run out of room so we haven’t bought any glass in about six months, which is kind of hard for us,” said Barbara. “We have about 200 pieces, which is why we’re so anxious for the Tampa Museum of Art to be built. The architect is determined to build a glass sculpture gallery and we will be donating some major pieces.”
The compelling glass collection is presented in the couple’s home with museum quality. Pieces or installations are positioned to absorb and refract natural or artificial light and are placed inside architectural embellishments built just for them. The pieces permeate myriad jewel-tones around the room like rainbows and cast shadows on the ceilings, granting both the room and the artwork more depth and dimension. The couple often entertain and the art’s presentation, paired with the casings does not make guests feel like bulls walking through a China shop. Instead, the experience is more like meandering through the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Barbara gleaned her expertise by visiting glass galleries and museums all over the world. As part of the couple’s growing love of the art form, they schedule international trips around extravaganzas of the art glass world. Among the Basches’ collection are pieces by Lino Tagliapietra from Italy, Seth Randal from America, Ann Wolff from Sweden and Germany, and the Czech couple Libensky-Brychtova.
(top) A museum caliber collection. (bottom) Multiple Guardiani and Courtesani pieces by Philip Baldwin and Monica Guggisberg dance in front of the den’s windows.
“Every piece has a story of why it was created and why we acquired it,” said Richard. “Like with Luccio Bubacco, we found his work here in Florida and met him in person. He came to our house and we became good friends. Now every time we go to Venice, we end up buying a new piece.”
Bacco’s piece entitled Donna Scorpionne is a black ephemeral work that seems to glide like a lady through water. He retells stories from Greek mythology and Venetian lore and makes other literary references in his works, a fact that attracts Richard.
“It changes from minute-to-minute and hour-to-hour,” said Richard. “You start with a vase and then you get into the more sculptural forms. On the outside it looks like a vase, but when you turn on the light it looks completely different. That light makes all the difference.”
He points out a Seth Randal “vase” that Barbara illuminates with a small lamp. Illuminated, the vase transforms into a Polynesian mask carving. Candy tones like red and fuchsia, blueberry and jade, awaken the eyes allowing the viewer to witness the intricate details in the mask. Once the couple begins discussing the technique and the impact of light, a visitor becomes indoctrinated into the world of art glass.
“It’s very seductive. It’s sculptural,” said Barbara. “The art embodies so many different techniques and we’ve tried to represent all of them in our collection.”