“One of the things that is so interesting about Mystic Museum of Art is its deep roots in the history of Mystic’s arts community. It’s fun to see the names of the founding fathers and know that those families are still involved in the community today.”
– Gwen Basilica, Elected Artist Member
Back in 1913, Charles Davis and his followers sought to create a space where artists could foster their work and creativity. 100 years later we call that space Mystic Museum of Art, and it is still providing opportunities for artists to work and create. Through our Elected Artist Membership, members meet other artists, participate in an array of events and educational programs, and gain opportunities to exhibit their work.
This month we spoke with Gwen Basilica, a MMoA Elected Artist since 2006. Gwen has been creating commissioned pieces for over 20 years. Her stained glass, fused glass and mosaic pieces can be seen at a number of local places including Mystic Aquarium, New London Parade Plaza, Tony D’s restaurant and Mohegan Sun Casino. Gwen is also the recipient of MMoA’s Katherine Forest Craft Award-Mabel Kingsbury Fentress Prize, which she was awarded during the 54th Regional Show in 2009.
What made you join Mystic Museum of Art’s Elected Artist membership?
GB: I decided to become a member for many reasons. Mystic Museum of Art is such a beautiful facility to show your art work. I looked at becoming an Elected Artist as a personal challenge since not many artist members at the time were working in my medium. Becoming a member allows you to meet lots of other artists in the area. I owned a gallery in New London at the time but also wanted to expand the ability to show my work into other parts of the region.
What benefits do you enjoy most from your membership?
GB: There are so many opportunities to be involved at MMoA: to exhibit your work, volunteer on committees, take classes and workshops. I think most importantly though, is the opportunity to be inspired by other artists and their work.
Are there any MMoA Exhibitions that really stand out in your head?
GB: The one that stands out the most for me was “Art in Pieces” in October 2010. Not only because it was a mosaics show, but because it really showcased a medium that is relatively unknown to most people and outside the realm of what is normally shown at MMoA. The artwork presented had so many different styles of mosaic, and incorporated so many different usages of materials. I also loved that there were hands-on workshops and a very informative historic lecture included in the exhibit.
I also enjoy some of the themed shows such as “Long and Lean” and “Self Image” because it gets many of the artists to think outside of their normal box and comfort zone. It’s always interesting to see how people interpret a theme.
Does it feel different to be a part of a 100-year-old institution like MMoA vs. a newer arts center?
GB: Yes, I think so, because there is a real sense of ownership, of community, of owning a piece of history. Along with that though, sometimes it is hard to move out of a set, established way of doing things and to stay current and fresh; to figure out how to move forward while still paying homage to the history of the institution. I feel that MMoA is working very hard in the right direction to balance all of these pieces of the equation. Also, as a member of the Board of Directors, I’m excited to be involved in how MMoA moves forward for the next 100 years.
How would you describe your creative process?
GB: The creative process can happen several different ways. Sometimes it is a particular piece of glass or handmade ceramic tile that inspires me to create a piece of artwork to showcase its beauty. Sometimes, especially with mosaics, it’s a new technique that I want to try or a new material to experiment with. When I’m in my studio working on a fine art piece for an exhibit, it’s my play time. My time to do what I want to do. My art form is very process-driven. I love all phases of it — the designing, engineering, installation issues — and the actual creation of the piece. When I am creating a commissioned project, I enjoy working with my clients to incorporate their ideas, and to take them through the process of educating them about the materials available, creating a design, deciding on colors and turning their vision into a finished piece.
What’s better: the process or the product?
GB: I love both!