Flint Journal Feature

Press: The Flint Journal, August 2005

Someone gave Tomak Bakisk the ultimate compliment about his sculpture "Fountain at Minerva" at last year's Michigan Renaissance Festival. "It looks like a Bernini," the admirer said.

"It made me feel successful, like I hit the nail on the head," said the 34-year-old Warren artist, who reveres 17th century Italian master Gianlorenzo Bernini.

This year, only the 8-foot figure of Minerva from the entire tableau will be at the festival at Hollygrove, 12500 Dixie Highway, Groveland Township. The 26th annual event opens Saturday and continues on weekends through Sept. 25.

Baksik is among nearly 200 artisans involved in this annual re-creation of the Renaissance period. In addition to handcrafted wares, visitors may partake in games of skill or enjoy such entertainers as belly dancers, sword swallowers, musicians, comedians and sword fighters.

The festival is best known for its full-contact armored jousting tournaments during which knights defend their honor until the last man is standing.

This is Baksik's fifth year in the Michigan Renaissance Festival. Sales from the smaller objects he sells in festivals provide funds for his larger projects such as the Minerva fountain, he said. The 3,000-pound fountain is made of epoxy, styrene and fiberglass. It depicts a scene from the Trojan war in which Minerva beckons Neptune to raise a storm to smite the Aechean fleet.

The work almost had a part in an upcoming (2006) movie, "10th & Wolf," starring Dennis Hopper and Val Kilmer, Baksik said.

"It was to be set near a mansion near Pittsburgh (that simulated) the Mafia leader's home in Italy," Baksik said, referring to a character in the film. "But they had huge budget cutbacks, and I lost the deal." The sculpture was two years in the making. Baksik made a couple of trips to Rome to look at sculptures made by Italian masters. He said he admires Bernini because he was "a brilliant sculptor."

The complete "Minerva" has been shown at the Loveland Sculpture Invitational and the Mythic Journeys conference celebrating the Joseph Campbell Centennial in Atlanta.

The fountain sculpture now is owned by an art patron, but the figure has been loaned for display at this year's Renaissance festival. He said the originals are made in modeling clay over a steel frame. "Then we mold it in sections (100 overall) and cast it in 13 layers of resin and fiberglass. The pieces are assembled with plumbing in place (for the fountains)."

Smaller works are usually hollow cast in resin, he said.

Baksik has been making such sculptures since the 1980s. He dropped out of the University of Michigan, where he was studying physics and art, in 1992.

"The art program had way too much modern and abstract art, which I did not identify with," he said.

He's also dabbled in oil painting, fantasy and sci-fi illustration, blacksmithing and making pewter jewelry.

Baksik said he's drawn to mythological figures. "I suppose I'm a fairly spiritual person who's done a lot of research into the wide spectrum of human religious belief," he said.

Among his other objects are a Valkyrie shelf from Norse mythology (the Valkyries were battle maidens), Celtic crosses, faeries, gargoyles and dragons.

His bestselling object has been the medicine weasel, an animal with a human skull on top of its head. "People like hamsters and ferrets," he said. "They don't see them depicted in such a cool way."

Baksik also is a member of the Society of Creative Anachronism, international organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th century Europe.

He said he participates in group battles in which members use wooden swords.

Baksik has constructed his own booth at the Michigan Renaissance Festival. He also has bigger dreams. He's proposed constructing a giant labyrinth for people to walk through while at the fair.

A-maze-ing.

Michigan Renaissance Festival

• Where: Hollygrove, 12500 Dixie Highway, Groveland Township
• When: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 25 (open Labor Day and Sept. 23)
• Tickets: $16.95 adults, $7.95 children 5-12 (free for younger children), in advance or at the gate
• Details: (800) 601-4848, www.michrenfest.com