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My Art Collection: Frank & Katrina Basile

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About the series: 'My Art Collection' is an occasional Sky Blue Window feature that explores works on the walls and shelves of art enthusiasts across the metropolitan area.

Art Collector: Frank Basile - and his wife Katrina

His work: Professional speaker, community volunteer, philanthropist, author and retired executive with the Gene B. Glick Company.

His play: Basile and his wife, Katrina, love to travel and ballroom dance. "We also love to go to the various events of the organizations that we're involved with," he says.

Collection CliffsNotes: A total of 215 works in nearly every medium -- acrylic, oil and watercolor paintings; sculptures; furniture art; photography. There are 95 jazz pieces, 22 of ballroom themes, 34 sensuous works, 12 of 1950s style and 52 other pieces that fall into a "miscellaneous-themed" category. Works have been purchased in New Orleans, New York, Chicago, Beverly Hills, Miami and several foreign countries.

Favorite pieces: Frank Basile's most treasured works are the original, untitled Hohimer piece featuring the Latin ballroom dancers and the stained-glass one shaped like a musical instrument. But, he says, it's really hard to choose.

Decade he began collecting: 1980s

Something he'll never have in his art collection:"I would never say never," says Basile with a chuckle. "But we wouldn't have anything that's sacrilegious or vulgar."  

Frank and Katrina Basile sit with a wooden chair depicting Louis Armstrong, a work by Kathy Callahan. - PERRY REICHANADTER
  • Perry Reichanadter
  • Frank and Katrina Basile sit with a wooden chair depicting Louis Armstrong, a work by Kathy Callahan.

Walk into Frank and Katrina Basile's home on the city's north side, and you instantly forget you're in Indianapolis.

Not because the great room's wall of windows offers a waterfront view reminiscent of a beach retreat (sans the sand). But because many of the works of art -- both inside and outside -- transport visitors to the colorful streets of New Orleans, where the sounds of jazz music wafts from almost every bar, restaurant or shop along the city's famed French Quarter.

Your eyes quickly move up and down and side to side as you try to take in the more than 200 works, from intricate sculptures to vibrant paintings and watercolors to unique furniture art, all spread throughout the home.

In the great room, there's a life-size wooden chair of jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong and a bronze sculpture, titled Mr. New Orleans, of jazz clarinetist Pete Fountain hovering above his club in the Big Easy and surrounded by the Mississippi River. The numbered work is signed by Fountain.

Near the wall of windows is a stained glass piece shaped like a musical instrument, a bonded sand work titled Jazz Cats, and another image of Armstrong, this time a free-floating bronze sculpture called Louie's Back! They have a total of seven Louis Armstrong works of art.

Jazz clarinetist Pete Fountain floats over his club in this sculpture by Paul Wagner.  - PAUL WAGNER
  • Paul Wagner
  • Jazz clarinetist Pete Fountain floats over his club in this sculpture by Paul Wagner.

"Louis Armstrong became kind of the patron saint of the house," says Frank Basile, who grew up in New Orleans.

He and his wife's collection, however, isn't solely focused on jazz. Basile, a professional speaker, author, columnist and philanthropist, says there are three themes: jazz, ballroom dance and sensuous art.

In fact, the collection began with an untitled work by Indiana artist R.J. Hohimer, an acrylic contemporary painting featuring Latin dancers with a band and singer in the background.

"I paid an interior decorator to develop a plan but did not like it; it was not me," Basile explains. "About that time, in a local gallery, I spotted (the untitled Hohimer piece), which inspired me to decorate with art, using the jazz and ballroom theme."

"I love jazz ... and ballroom dance is a major hobby (of ours)," he says.

Works of art that reflect those musical and dance theme are sprinkled throughout the Basile home. The sensuous art dwells inside the couple's master bedroom and centers around a five-foot long glass coffee table (purchased in New Orleans), anchored by a full-size nude woman in bronze. There's a total of 34 works in their collection.

The basement is home to the couple's love of ballroom dancing, with its custom dance floor and wall of mirrors (used to check their form, of course) and a red Rowe juke box (which he found in Greenwood) with 200 musical selections -- everything from '50s tunes to music for the waltz, rumba, fox-trot, cha-cha, tango and swing dance.

Above the juke box is a custom-made 1950s-style neon clock. In the semi-circle above the numbers are the words "Basile's Ballroom." In the middle of the clock is the word "NOW."

Basile sees the word "NOW" as a positive statement that means "Now is the only time that we have." But he recalled an amusing story of the first people to see the clock and how they asked why he would have a timepiece made to honor the National Organization of Women.

As with many of the works in the couples' collection, there's a story behind each one -- some more funny or interesting than the next one.

Don Stoffer's functional fountain made from old instruments.  - PERRY REICHANADTER
  • Perry Reichanadter
  • Don Stoffer's functional fountain made from old instruments.

Like the time he searched high and low in just about every used music shop in the city buying up all of the instruments he could find for two outdoor bronze works created by Indiana sculptor Donn Stoffer. The result is All That Jazz a five-and-a-half foot tall water fountain located in the couples' backyard, and the 6-foot tall Frank's Fanfare, which greets visitors in the yard near the front entrance.

"When we first displayed Frank's Fanfare in front of our (former) condo, which was a more conservative community with retired people, the board asked that we remove it because it was not in keeping with the conservative surroundings," Basile says. "We finally reached a compromise, and they allowed me to display it outside on the day of a party. In those days, we had a party every couple of months."

Then there's the time Basile was anxiously awaiting a sculpture by Ed Dwight to arrive from Denver by airplane, in time for an unveiling at one of their parties. Musical Chair is a brass chair with three musicians with instruments sculptured in the inside backrest and two musicians with instruments sculptured into the front two legs.

"The day before the party, I received a call from Ed Dwight saying that the chair would be on a later flight than originally scheduled but would be here in time for the party," Basile says. "It seems he forgot to sign Musical Chair and rushed to the airport in Denver with his welding rig and went on the tarmac. He had persuaded the airline to unload it for him to sign. It was on the next flight to Indianapolis.

"Needless to say, something like that would never happen today (at the airport)," he adds.

Hosting parties where works of art are featured or unveiled isn't a new concept for the Basiles. They've been doing it since the 1990s, even inviting artists to attend to meet their guests.

It's their way of helping artists achieve their life's goals.

"Growing up in New Orleans, we were very poor," he says. "But we were always taught to use our God-given talents to the best of our abilities. We've always supported emerging artists."

He and his wife support multiple organizations throughout the city -- from IndyFringe to the Indianapolis Art Center, the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel to the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art and the Indianapolis Cultural Trail: A Legacy of Gene and Marilyn Glick, among many others.

With art in every room of the house, including the bathroom, laundry room and gym, there's not much space left to add additional works. That, however, hasn't stopped the couple from looking. Galleries also will sometimes call them when they receive art in keeping with their themes.

"We love to, in our travels, find pieces. We are always on the lookout for new art," Basile says. "But because we have run out of wall space, if we bring something in we have to give something away."

They have donated works to various organizations, including a sensuous piece by Pablo Picasso to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. "We also gave a 6-foot bronze work to the Wheeler Arts building in Fountain Square, and (in return) asked for visitation rights," he says, laughing.

Earl Linderman's Musical Chairs 10 Cents a Dance is representative of both the artist's and the collectors' appreciation of musical themes in art.  - PERRY REICHANADTER
  • Perry Reichanadter
  • Earl Linderman's Musical Chairs 10 Cents a Dance is representative of both the artist's and the collectors' appreciation of musical themes in art.

Because the couple travels frequently -- they've been to more than 170 countries on all seven continents -- they have purchased works from all over the world, but still manage to collect from local galleries and art festivals such as Penrod Arts Fair and the Broad Ripple Art Fair.

Whatever they purchase, however, has to fit into their theme. It has to be something they really like, and something unique that they have to have a place for. The price also has to be reasonable -- they buy purely for enjoyment, not for investment.

And, by all means, the works of art have to be diverse.

"We like to have a variety of works in various mediums, because it gives a variety and makes the collection more interesting," Basile says. "For me, a day doesn't go by that I don't come in here and look at the art (and smile)."

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