On an industrial corner near Normandy Oaks Park in Royal Oak, an assortment of nondescript buildings are home to auto repair shops, landscaping companies and a tanning salon. Construction vehicles hum on a nearby work area. Street signs warn of a dead end.
But tucked among the cinder blocks in an understated black building is Habatat Galleries Detroit, the nation’s oldest and largest art gallery devoted solely to the medium of glass. The stark, dramatically lit space is buzzing with life as workers put the finishing touches on the gallery’s 50th annual International Glass exhibition, which officially opens Saturday night.
“Because we’re off the track here on the edge of Royal Oak, our (foot traffic) is usually pretty minimal,” said Habatat co-owner Aaron Schey. “So we’re trying to get more people to join us in the celebrations.
The show, which is free and open to the public, was founded in 1972 by Habatat founder Ferdinand Hampson. It welcomes the world’s most renowned glass artists to travel to metro Detroit to display their work in person – a feat that will be possible again this year for the first time since 2019.
Schey said the event is not only an opportunity for the gallery to personally welcome artists and art lovers again, but also a way to bring the magic of glass art to a wider audience.
“We want people to come in and discover art,” Schey says. “(Glass art) is getting more and more impressive, techniques are getting more elaborate, science is getting better. It’s very different from grandma’s glassware that has been around for years.”
Schey clearly has strong feelings on the subject – “Not Your Grandma’s Glass” is the name of one of the many streaming series he has produced for Habatat over the past two years. He has co-owned the gallery with his stepbrother, Corey Hampson, since 2013 when it was handed over to them by founder (and father/stepfather) Ferdinand Hampson.
“Glass is one of the most exciting mediums to work with,” says Schey. “You can work with it hot, you can work with it cold, you can bake it, you can glue it together.”
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Those different techniques are on full display in the new exhibition, where pieces range from aesthetically pleasing sculptures to detailed installations that tell a story. Light bounces off the glass, creating a different experience depending on where the viewer is standing.
“Each piece has a story,” Schey says, pointing to an impossibly complex multi-panel piece inspired by the artist’s experience of terminal illness. “That’s really what the gallery is about: trying to share a post.”
The grand opening gala of Habatat’s 50th Annual International Glass Exhibition will take place on Saturday from 8pm to 10pm. The exhibition will remain on view until July 29.
For more information, visit habatat.com.
Lauren Wethington is a breaking news reporter. You can email her at LGilpin@freepress.com or find her on Twitter at @laurenelizw1.