Banking on Art/ Sovereign Bank Art Show

On the second floor of Sovereign Bank in Swampscott, a conference room is host to a bust of Abraham Lincoln as well as a handful of abstract artwork by radio host  Francesca Bastarache.( The Legends 106.1FM in Newburyport). One empty space on the wall is the result of a recent sale of one of her acrylic paintings.

A cascade of gold circles dangle at least an inch from each earlobe, a clue to one of the many talents Francesca Bastarache possesses: belly dancing. Given the Swampscott artist’s background from Sicily to Scituate, it’s no wonder she’s been able to dive into a new career as an acrylic artist — and flourish.

Determination was learned at birth. Growing up the fifth of eight children, Bastarache had to make a lot of noise.

She says, “I made enough for all eight together.”

When she was 15 years old, Bastarache lied about her age in order to get a job at a local eatery. When her parents objected and refused to drive her to work, she simply and stubbornly hopped on her bicycle.

A similar situation presented itself following a neighbor’s Passover dinner. She was informed that Sovereign Bank in Swampscott was renovating its Paradise Road branch. Bastarache’s immediate thought was to offer an exhibit of her artwork, and she followed through. With an air of audacity, she walked in with only a postcard in hand to show her work, a mailing from a previous showing at Cornerstone Books in Salem. Vice President and Branch Manager Tony Daniels was nonetheless impressed with Bastarache’s boldness and also embraced the opportunity to connect the bank to the arts community.

Twenty-seven acrylic paintings were placed on walls throughout the bank’s two floors for an exhibit, “True Colors,” which will run through October’s end. At the Aug. 24 opening reception, approximately 70 “top tier” bank clients and guests of the artist arrived. In just two hours, five pieces sold, and two more went soon after the opening.

Daniels says, “This show has been the most popular. Not every artist sells seven paintings.”

The last exhibit included the works of Harrison Avenue contemporary artist Fernando DeOliveira.

Tony’s branch

“I want to be the George Bailey of Swampscott,” says Daniels, referencing the community-friendly character in Frank Capra’s 1947 film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

For the artist, hanging work on the walls of this bank presents little risk, as the bank doesn’t take a commission on works sold.

“Just be a customer of the bank,” says Daniels of the single condition for the artists involved. In fact, many of the bank’s employees, as well as its customers, enjoy the colorful artwork, especially Daniels, who confesses to moving his personal favorite onto the wall of his neighboring associate so that he might enjoy the view.

On Thursday, Nov. 8, 7:30-9 p.m., the bank will host a grand re-opening of its remodeled Vinnin Square offices at 495 Paradise Road. Performing will be the North Shore Music Academy Choir and special guests from the North Shore Music Theatre. RSVP to Anabela Archilla, 781-593-0386.

Daniels touts Sovereign as a “community bank,” which works with clients such as the Jewish Community Center.

decided to open a wellness center in Connecticut, where she and her husband, Ray, who owned a bartering business, thrived.

She recalls the house as being “a disaster,” but knew her husband was capable of turning it around. Six months was the goal, but the renovations would take place five years later, four short of the home inspector’s estimate. The two left Connecticut, selling their businesses to settle in Swampscott.

“I’ve always had an interest in art forms of sorts, even just decorating,” says Bastarache.

The couple succeeded in turning the beat-up Victorian home around.

The renovation of “Wavecrest” ended up receiving recognition by the Swampscott Historical Commission, and prompted Bastarache to apply her education in art therapy.

“Had we not been so enmeshed on working on this house, I would never have painted, but would have got into another business,” says Bastarache.

During the renovation process, she found painting abstracts and florals therapeutic, which makes sense, given her educational history. She attended school at Leslie University in Cambridge to study creative art therapies, followed by Massachusetts College of Art, then the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, as well as the Boca Raton Museum School in Boca Raton, Fla. She has also studied with Betty Carr at the Scottsdale Artists’ School in Arizona.

“When I’m painting, I feel like it’s my life,” she says, correlating Fine Art by Francesca’s tagline, “because art is life.”

Within the 222 walls of her beautiful beachfront home, Bastarache knew she had to find a studio to rent elsewhere. She works out of Beverly, at Red Brick Arts on Rantoul Street.

“It was driving me insane being in that house all the time,” she says. “You really have to get away from it sometimes.”

Her husband, now a financial lender, also works from home, but is often on the road doing business in Connecticut.

Illuminating art

Like the reflection from her dangling gold earrings, Bastarache believes her art is illuminating, and she’s not alone. Her work can be found at “Illuminations,” the exhibit that began in 2001 at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center as a way of offering enlightenment and encouragement by displaying soothing paintings in waiting rooms — works of art that offer aesthetic joy to aid in healing. Bastarache’s work was on exhibit in the summer show, and will be on exhibit in the upcoming winter show, beginning in February and running through May, in the Yawkey Center for Outpatient Care, Suite 7B.

“It offers cheer to patients,” she says, grateful to be drawing on her education in art therapy.

 Through her art, she helps those coping with Post-Traumatic-Stress Syndrome, for instance, allowing them to express themselves and open up.
“Art is a form of therapy,” she says.

Personally, the process has proven therapeutic, too. As someone who isn’t working through a specific trauma, she believes issues that are buried can be released through one’s soul in a meditative form. It’s not unlike yoga, which she continues to teach once a week at the Salem YMCA, “to keep yoga in my blood,” she says.

One thing is for certain. Vibrant passion exudes from Bastarache’s personality and translates well into her abstract art.

“My neighbor called me the other day and wanted to buy a painting for her boyfriend,” says Bastarache. “Crazy in Love” was sold and removed from the bank’s show, adding to the excitement about her art.

The proof of her success is money in the bank, which, given the unique location of her gallery, is deposited before she even sees it.