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With shards and shells and stones, Gwen Basilica makes visual music

Published 10/19/2011 12:00 AM

Sodalyte, calcedon, crystals, Smalti glass, Italian marble. These are just some of the exotic materials that Gwen Basilica brings together to form her irresistibly touchable sculptural glass works of art.

Glimmering, shimmering, smooth, rough, dark, bright, transparent, opaque — Basilica never tires of exploring and experimenting with glass.

Whether she's creating a small fine art piece to hang in a private home or a monumental public installation, Basilica says, "The glass speaks to me. I let it guide me — it does the talking."

Born and raised in New London, she and her husband, Tony, both graduated from New London High School in 1974. Basilica started making stained glass pieces as a hobby, while in high school, which she continued to do while raising four kids and working as a dental hygienist, her vocation for 28 years.

Basilica points out that it isn't such an unusual combination — being a dental hygienist and a glass artist.

"Both take a lot of patience — working with small stones, working with teeth," she says.

About 10 years ago Basilica began doing mosaics. In contrast to traditional stained glass, the mosaics incorporate many types and textures of glass, and other materials, such as river rock, pottery, semi-precious stones and hand-painted tiles.

She is now a full-time glass artist and owner of Gwen Glass Custom Stained Glass and Mosaics, LLC in New London.

"I realized how much I loved doing this," Basilica says. "It doesn't matter if it's stained glass or mosaic, a lead line or a grout line — the only difference is in materials and execution."

Basilica is as enthralled with the engineering, planning and design aspects of her art as she is with the beautiful results.

The painstaking preparation requires reducing large chunks of glass down to small slivers, using a hammer and a hardie (a small anvil-like tool) before she even begins the process of assembling the various materials into a finished piece.

"There's so much freedom with the types of materials I use," she says. "I love the contrast between glass and more solid stone. I have fun putting different materials together to see how [a piece] works on different levels."

For the most part, Basilica is self-taught in what she describes as a "mysterious" art form. "There aren't too many of us doing this," she says.

She travels to workshops in Austin, Chicago and Miami. "It's great for networking with other artists," she says. "People are always kicking around new ideas."

Inspiration for her fine art pieces comes from nature and living on the Long Island Sound. Water themes are prevalent in her work, whether it's a literal depiction of a lighthouse or in the choice of water-inspired colors in her more abstract works — sea greens and aquamarine blues — and even the inclusion of shells from the beach in front of her house.

Basilica has shown her work in many juried and invitational exhibitions over the years, most recently the Mystic Art Center's 55th Regional Juried Exhibition this past September. She is a featured artist at Six Summit Gallery in Ivoryton.

"Gwen is a very serious artist," says the gallery's owner, Leonardo Feroleto. "That's why she was commissioned to do thousands of square feet at the Mohegan Sun. She's very serious and very warm — just like her art. Her personality flows through her work. It's very tactile. People can't resist touching it."

Basilica has done a number of public installations. In addition to the six large wall and floor mosaics she created at Mohegan Sun Casino, she produced a Beluga whale for the Mystic Aquarium, a picturesque scene of Italy's Amalfi Coast for Tony D's Restaurant in New London, and a nautical-themed glass tile mural on The Parade in New London. Basilica says completing the project, which consists of 25,000 tiles at almost 36 feet long, took five weeks.

Her husband and 21-year-old son Anthony helped her install the massive mural and she taught her son "the fine art of grouting" the thousands of tiles in each of its eight sections.

"New London is my hometown. It's cool for me to have a permanent installation there," Basilica says with a smile. "I hope [my kids] bring their own grandchildren there one day."

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Stained Glass and Mosaics

54 Gardner Ave.,

New London

860.444.0498

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gwenglassllc on Facebook.