One must mind their elbows when they walk through Dr. Richard and Barbara Basch’s Sarasota home — any false move could result in a shattering disaster. The home is covered with treasured and coveted pieces of colorful contemporary glass art that the retired couple has collected since the early ’90s. Their collection features a breadth of work from famed artists of the glass world, such as Dale Chihuly, Lucio Bubacco, Richard Marquis, Martin Blank and Giampaolo Amoruso, to name a few. Many of the artists the Basches have come to know personally.
“(We have them) everywhere: bathrooms, kitchen, study — everywhere! And outside, too,” Barbara Basch says. They have so many that Barbara Basch worries they need to slow down collecting. She would hate for her home to resemble a retail store.
“Maybe we’ll go back to collecting paper weights and perfume bottles,” she jokes.
As Curator of Exhibitions Mark Ormond and two additional Ringling College of Art and Design staff carefully pack and load more than 35 of the Basches’ pieces, Barbara Basch raises her eyebrows while telling herself, “Don’t look, Barbara.” But, the packing has become easier with the fourth time the couple has lent their pieces for an exhibition.
“I have faith in these guys,” says Barbara Basch. The pieces are being taken to the Basch Gallery in the Ringling Academic Center where the fourth annual exhibit, from their collection, “Whimsy & Spontaneity in Glass,” will open Jan. 11 and run through March 23. Come March 24, the pieces will return to their designated spots throughout the Basches’ home.
Every one of the Basches’ 250-plus pieces, with the exception of about 10 that have been claimed by their two children, have been donated to and are now owned by Ringling College — but the college doesn’t have a place to store them until Sarasota Museum of Art/SMOA’s doors open. Therefore, Barbara Basch calls her home “The Warehouse.”
In addition to the glass collection, the couple also made a significant monetary donation to SMOA, a division of Ringling College of Art and Design, making them the largest individual donors in Ringling College’s history. Dr. Richard Basch, a retired radiologist, is on the Ringling College of Art and Design Board of Trustees, and Barbara Basch is on SMOA’s board of directors.
But the Basches’ history with glass dates back farther than their history with the college. Barbara Basch owned Footnotes, a retail store on the North Trail next door to the now-defunct Image of Sarasota gallery that contained smaller glass pieces. The late gallery owner Ruth Katzman, whom Barbara Basch calls an “art pillar of the city” and a friend, encouraged Richard and Barbara Basch to attend a small Chihuly show in 1993, in Tampa.
“I didn’t even know who he was, but that started it,” Barbara Basch says. “It was an epiphany and it just blew our minds ... we didn’t know glass could do that!”
The couple bought their first piece, “The Blue Persian,” by Chihuly at that exhibit, and then as Barbara Basch says, they “went crazy from there.” They met Chihuly for the first time in their first year of collecting and have come to know him and his wife well. It was after the purchase of their 10th Chihuly piece that they opted to expand their collection to include other artists.
Barbara Basch has plenty of anecdotes about the glass pieces they’ve collected and the artists who created them. She has also become quite the encyclopedia of glassmaking over the years. She shares her stories and knowledge on weekly docent tours that she leads in Basch Gallery.
During one visit to Chicago, the Basches were having dinner with artist Lucio Bubacco, who had just finished a series depicting Greek myths and mythological figures. One he featured was Leda, the queen who was seduced by Zeus in the guise of a swan.
“Richard said, ‘Why don’t you do nude female bodies with swan wings and heads and call them ‘Dirty Birds?’’’ Barbara Basch says.
And, sure enough, six months later, they came across “Swans’ Lake,” of which Richard Basch had been the muse.
“Of course, we had to buy it!” Barbara Basch says. But they still refer to it as “Dirty Birds.”
This piece will be featured in the upcoming collection and, alongside it, other pieces that represent humor, fantasy and mystery.
“If nothing else, (people should come see the exhibition) because they’re beautiful,” Barbara Basch says.
She explains that glass is a compelling medium that attracts people. Her own interest in the art form continues to grow.
“The temptation after the 36 pieces leave (for the upcoming exhibit) is to fill in the gaps,” she laughs. She looks around her home, where there’s glass on every shelf and in every nook and cranny. “But when (those pieces) come back, where would we put them?”
IF YOU GO
‘Whimsy & Spontaneity in Glass’ Exhibit
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday from Jan. 11 through March 23 (The gallery will be closed on Dr. Martin Luther King Day, Monday, Jan. 21, and from Saturday, March 3, through Sunday, March 10.)
Where: Richard and Barbara Basch Gallery of the Academic Center at Ringling College of Art and Design, 2363 Old Bradenton Road
Info: Visit ringling.edu or call 351-5100
‘The Four W’s of Collecting: Who, What Where and Why’
Richard Basch will give a lecture on the art of collecting and a tour of notable pieces of the Basch collection
When: 10 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30
Where: Ringling College of Art and Design Academic Auditorium, 2700 N. Tamiami Trail
Cost: Ringling College Library Association member, $10; non-member, $15
Info: Call 925-1343 to make a reservation