Steven Linn was introduced to the large, sculptural works of George Segal in the 1960s during an artist lecture at the University of Illinois, where Linn was a student.
Years later, Linn, already a sculptor himself, got to know Segal personally during work-related travel through Italy. Linn had been asked to accompany Segal for a week by the United States embassy as the senior artist prepared a project and needed help with the language.
Now, Linn is making more people aware of Segal’s structural style, which is based on plaster casting, through a new piece, I Dreamt I Was a Model for George Segal. It is one of two Linn works being featured in the 45th Annual International Glass Invitational Award Exhibition at Habatat Galleries in Royal Oak.
Founded in 1971 by Ferdinand Hampson and now run by his sons, Aaron Schey and Corey Hampson, Habatat Galleries is the oldest and largest studio glass gallery in the country, known internationally as one of the finest collections of art glass in the world. The gallery’s annual exhibition runs April 29-July 21 and will feature 500 works of contemporary art glass by more than 100 artists from 30 different countries — including Jewish artists Alex Bernstein, Jon Kuhn, Laura Donefer and Irene Frolic.
Visitors will see cast, slumped, fused, flame-worked and laminated projects. This year’s theme is “Next,” to explore artists’ insights into the future. New for 2017 is “Glassotic: An Exhibition of Glass Wearables” completed by 14 artists and including jewelry, masks, purses and coats.
Linn has been showing new works at the gallery since 1983 and will be in town for the opening. His other piece to be shown, Steven Hawking, honors the theoretical physicist and further emphasizes Linn’s continuing sculptural approach, which is biographical, documentary and large. More than communicating straightforward portraiture, he dramatizes the lives of individuals he admires.
“George Segal wrapped people in plaster bandages and then cut them out to reassemble the pieces and make figurative environments,” Linn says of the man who sometimes leaned on his Conservative Jewish background to develop religious subjects.
“Five months ago, I dreamed that Segal was making a sculpture of me. I used that dream to develop the piece being exhibited in Michigan. It is made of sandblasted carved glass, cast glass and bronze, and it shows Segal putting plaster bandages on my face as I model for him.”
The Hawking wall piece, more intricate and inspired, consists of a large sandblasted carved glass head of the scientist and three cast glass heads to show the evolution of the ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) that has depleted movement abilities.
Coming from those heads are three holograms to draw attention to his theories. In the surrounding areas are six heads (drawings printed on brass) of scientists who influenced Hawking — Galileo, Newton, Copernicus, Einstein, Penrose and Hubble.
“Sometimes, my work has been about non-specific people, rodeo cowboys and truckers, for example,” says Linn, who works out of a village studio in France and has enjoyed reading biographies since childhood.
That reading interest preceded any artistic direction. While he studied floriculture and ornamental horticulture in college because the concentration offered a scholarship, he found satisfaction through set design as a non-academic activity.
“When I was a teenager in Chicago, I was a dancer on a show that was a version of American Bandstand,” he recalls. “When I got to college, I tried out for a musical production and got into that before helping with the building of scenery.
“Right out of college, I got a grant to be an assistant set designer to Robin Wagner at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. Before he went on to win Tony Awards, Robin [still a friend] convinced me to become a sculptor because of my personality. I’m not good at compromising, and theater is a group sport.”
Linn started out working with a mixture of wood and bronze, adding glass while planning a piece about photographer Imogen Cunningham. She worked with a camera having negatives on glass plates — he wanted to depict her on a life-size glass plate.
“I like the luminosity of glass and that it lends itself to the kind of detailing I like to use,” he says. “Wood adds warmth to the pieces, and bronze adds visual strength.”
Beginning with wood was natural for Linn, who learned skills from his late father, a high-school woodshop teacher. Dad-son projects, such as building a model airplane without any kit, were encouraged as was practicing Judaism. Linn, who had a bar mitzvah, now considers himself more spiritual than religious.
“Adventure made me move to France from New York in 1992,” says Linn, whose quest for something new was shared by his wife, graphic artist Karen Lehrer. The couple’s daughter, Katie, an infant when they moved, became a police officer.
Linn, who holds dual citizenship in the United States and France and likes to do Nordic walking for exercise, has seen his work placed in homes and public locations in both countries. His range of subjects have included musician Louis Armstrong, artist Frida Kahlo and architect Oscar Neimeyer. Three pieces just entered the collection of the Flint Institute of Art: Portrait d’Amour, Juggling Soft Signs and Chiracahua Spirit.
“Influences have sent me in the direction of narrative artwork,” Linn says. “Figures in my sculpture have been like actors on a stage.”
The grand opening of the Habatat Galleries 45th Annual International Glass Invitational Award Exhibition takes place 8-11 p.m. Saturday, April 29. It is free and open to the public. The exhibition continues, also free and open to the public, until July 21. The gallery is at 4400 Fernlee, Royal Oak. (248) 554-0590; habatat.com.
Suzanne Chessler Contributing Writer
Glassblowing will be taught during the annual Spring Show and Sale, when there will be discounts on one-of-a-kind artwork, including wine decanters, paperweights and pet-themed items benefiting the Michigan Humane Society.
Those interested in learning skills can choose their own colors to create glass flowers. Registration for the $50, hour-long sessions is requested.
(248) 745-3786; epiphanyglass.com.