Projects by Jewish artists long associated with Habatat will be featured in a celebration showing some 400 works.
Fifty years ago. Ferdinand Hampson took a liking to glass art and opened a gallery dedicated to the medium. His space, moved around the metro area and now in Royal Oak, has become the largest and oldest art gallery dedicated to glass in the United States.
Hampson, applying business skills studied at Wayne State University, took on the name Habatat Galleries, giving an identifying spelling twist to the word describing a person’s preferred surroundings, and he worked nonstop at establishing a continuing group of collectors surrounding themselves with glass art.
Hampson, at different times, also had galleries out of state, organized exhibitions that reached into foreign countries, helped develop museum collections, led excursions to view studios and presenters and developed five books and dozens of catalogs about the glass artistry at the center of his interests.
The first glass work that caught his eye had been a paperweight by Gilbert Johnson, who headed the glass program at what became the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, and now the gallery is inviting the public to celebrate the weighty work in bringing the unique talents of glass artists into wider recognition.
Projects by Jewish artists long associated with Habatat will be featured in the celebration showing some 400 works. Although the event runs from 5:30-9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18, those wanting to avoid crowds are invited to come earlier in the day or view the display on the web.
“Glass has a special characteristic of having an internal world and an external form, and very few materials can do that,” said Hampson, 74, happy in retirement that gallery operations have been turned over to sons Aaron Schey and Corey Hampson, part of a blended family of five children identifying as Jewish.
“Glass artists can concentrate on making interesting images on the inside or use the materials to make structures with the form being more important. Whoever works with glass has to be aware of what light does to it. Glass is a material that separates itself from other materials because of what it can do with light.”
Represented in the celebration showcase will be Alex Bernstein, Daniel Clayman, Laura Donefer, Joshua Hershman, Sidney Hutter, Steven Linn, Marvin Lipofsky and Toland Sand.
A History of Jewish Artists
“The first Jewish artist whose work we exhibited would have been Steve Weinberg,” Hampson said. “He has retired, but he capitalized on architecture and making pieces with an interior and exterior form that was architecturally very interesting. He worked with clear glass, sandblasting and casting it.”
Sidney Hutter, a continuing artist, has been noted for nonfunctional vessel forms, starting out with green glass before moving into other colors. Laura Donefer’s work has been described as flamboyant and exuberant by Hampson, who recalls fashion shows with everyone dressed in glass designs.
When Habatat started out, work was focused on Michigan and Midwest artists. After deciding to host a glass exhibit in California, Hampson was introduced to a wider range of glass artists with new recommendations increasing gallery diversity.
“Detroit was wonderful to us, but I felt I had to reach beyond that,” said Hampson, who promoted the establishment of what had become Michigan Glass Month to encourage glass displays by other galleries. “I wanted to do something important. The world was out there without studio glass, and it’s been almost like an obligation to get other states and countries involved.”
Of special sentiment is a piece that was done by a couple working together, and it is kept in Hampson’s own collection.
“I have a piece from Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová that’s special because my wife and I were [with them] in Mexico for an exhibit we put on,” Hampson recalled. “Together, we went on a little side trip and climbed the pyramid that became the inspiration for ‘Green Eye of the Pyramid.’
“The idea that we were there at the time of the inspiration and later seeing the results [has been very special]. They did several variations.”
Knowing that so many of his clients were Jewish, Hampson once conducted a Jewish Community Center panel discussion on the reasons. He learned about people losing their heirlooms when coming to the United States so collecting contemporary art became a source for family heirlooms and traditions.
“I’m very fortunate because my sons still seem to listen to me sometimes,” Hampson said. “We have a great relationship as we did when we worked together at the gallery. It’s been a very easy transition.”
One artist newer to the gallery is Toland Sand, who works with laminated glass having colors centered on the inside. Sand has been focused on the optics of glass and was not tapped by Hampson because another artist’s works were completed in a similar style.
The anniversary exhibit allows viewers to see how creative processes evolved from what can be done beyond blown glass by displaying the results of methods that feature cast, slumped, fused, flamed and laminated glass.
“It has been a difficult time during the pandemic,” said Schey, who showed work digitally. “Now, for the glass art community, this is the celebration of the year. It is a reunion of the artists followed by an opportunity for the public to see, in person, the latest work coming out of the glass community.”
The 50th Anniversary Gala Celebration and Exhibition of Habatat Galleries runs 5:30-9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18, at 4400 Fernlee, Royal Oak. Visitors may view the free exhibition in person 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Projects also can be seen on the web. (248) 554-0590. habitat.com.