Thirty-two years ago, Ferdinand Hampson, 24, started an exhibition featuring the best of the nation's glass artists. Since then, the invitational has gone international and is considered the finest exhibition of work by contemporary glass artists in the world.
Each year, Habatat owner Hampson looks for a hook to make the show special. This year he's found several. The invitational will include its first juried show, with 25 awards to be bestowed among 80 artists offering two pieces each in the Royal Oak gallery. The Birmingham gallery will be filled with works from popular and interesting artists selected by Hampson. And there will be a show called "Origins: The Early Years of Contemporary Glass" in Habatat's former Pontiac space, featuring 250 pieces from the 1970s.
"Some collections became available and people were wanting to sell vintage pieces," Hampson said. "There's been nothing like it since the '70s."
A few of the pieces are familiar ones for Hampson, who sold them in his early national invitationals. Some of the early greats, such as Harvey Littleton, now living in North Carolina, and Richard Marquis of Seattle, are included.
The contrasts between the "Origins" work and pieces in the current international invitational are striking, Hampson says.
"Earlier work is more traditional and conservative, relying on the history of glass, such as Tiffany-style glass," Hampson said. "There was an explosion in the mid-1970s to break away and not look so much alike."
In the early years, almost every piece was blown, with less than a handful of artists working in cast or slumped glass. Scale, too, is much different. Pieces were tiny in the '70s as artists were still learning to control the material.
"It was easy to fit 250 older pieces in a smaller area," Hampson said.
The more contemporary pieces in the invitational reflect conceptual ideas, much like painters' work. And there's more interaction with materials and other artists. Processes, too, have evolved beyond blowing to casting, fusing, slumping and laminating. And now many more women are making art glass.
The awards exhibition features not necessarily an artist's newest work but his or her best work. For example, Barry Sautner of Florida is sending a seminal piece from 1985, considered one of the finest examples of carved glass in the classical Roman cage cup style.
Judges will be New Yorkers William Warmus, author, critic and former curator of contemporary glass at the Corning Museum, and David McFadden, senior curator for the New York Museum of Art and Design, as well as Ken Gross, director of the Alfred Berkowitz Gallery at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
You, too, can be a judge by participating in the People's Award. For $10, you'll receive a silver star to place on your favorite piece. The money goes directly to the artist, and you'll be making your own statement as well.