The Alfred Berkowitz Gallery at the University of Michigan-Dearborn will be opening “A Collector’s Living Room: Honoring Richard and Louise Abrahams” with a 5-7 p.m. Friday reception.
The exhibition will be highlighting a portion of the studio glass collection which has been gifted to the university by the Abrahamses, not only to honor their contribution but also intended to “provide the viewer with a rare glimpse into the living room of a private collector.” It is scheduled to continue on display from Feb. 19 until June 15.
Whenever the exhibition ends, according to Alfred Berkowitz Gallery Manager and Art Curator Laura Cotton, the university will simply have the pieces returned to rooms and hallways throughout campus, where they are normally on display. Though she personally has been in her position for just one year, Cotton said, the university’s gallery has been a long-time collector of studio glass pieces, starting back in the 1970s.
When small glass furnaces were invented for artists’ studios, there was a major shift from factory manufacturing of glass for utilitarian purposes to artists working on glass in their own studios. Since Harvey Littleton and Dominick Labino taught two Toledo Museum of Art workshops in 1962, in which they introduced the first small glass furnace that made it possible to create glass art in home studios, the Toledo birthplace of the American studio glass movement was hence located just a short distance away from the University of Michigan-Dearborn, so the movement was a strong influence in this area.
The studio glass movement spread quickly to surrounding states (such as Littleton introducing the first university program for glass in the United States at the University of Wisconsin), and had a lot to do with Detroit having a strong glass movement. The art pieces collected by the Habatat Galleries in Royal Oak, she said, “are one of the most respected collections in the world.” The area’s strong glass movement, Cotton said, drew a lot of artists and collectors in studio glass art to this region.
By the 1980s, University of Michigan-Dearborn had decided to make studio glass a major collecting focus.
“This university got in just as the movement started, so it got connected with the people in it, and we now have a good relationship with the Habatat Gallery, which helped us when we did some collecting,” Cotton explained. “Because of that, we have a kind of hidden treasure on campus, many works by a lot of the top artists in glass, and a large portion of it is scattered about the campus.
“Honestly, this exhibition is just a small portion of our collection on display, and we’re very proud to show it in our exhibition through June 15. We’re trying to get as many pieces as we can for people to see and enjoy. The artists and collectors in this region will know of our collection, so our exhibition should attract them,” Cotton said.
Among those local collectors were the Abrahamses, whose international collection of studio glass pieces are partly on view in the exhibition. Sonja Blomdahl, Lucio Bubacco, Ben Edols, Kathy Elliot, Petr Hora, Janet Kelman, Richard Ritter, Colin Reid—and even the father of the studio glass movement himself, Littleton—are just a few of the world-renowned glass artists highlighted in the exhibition. Joe Marks, the former curator for the Alfred Berkowitz Gallery who developed the university’s glass collection for many decades, built a strong friendship with Richard and Louise over many years.
The Abrahamses purchased their first piece of glass, Taketori Tale by Kyohei Fujita (also included in the Alfred Berkowitz Gallery exhibition), after falling in love with the medium at the 1997 Sculpture, Objects, Functional Art and Design (SOFA) exhibition, an annual event in Chicago.
“SOFA will also have a gathering each year of many of the best artists, dealers and curators out to look at a huge collection, much of it glass,” Cotton noted. “They have a wonderful time finding new pieces every year, and there are also people like me who are looking for new artists, so it’s a highly respected exhibition that happens every year.”
In traveling the world many years after, the Abrahamses collected pieces from all over the United States and other countries like Australia, Denmark and Scotland. When the couple first met, Richard and Louise found their taste in painting to be quite different, but they both shared a passion for glass.
“We decided early on in our collecting that we both had to love the piece before we could buy it,” Louise Abrahams said. “We also tried not to have more than two from any artist.
“We definitely could be called glassaholics. It’s similar to going into a candy store and saying I would like one of these and one of those, etc. The artists and gallery owners are very special people, and became great friends,” she said.
The Feb. 19 opening reception is free to the public, and the wine, coffee, water and tea (along with hors d’oeurvres) will also be complimentary.
“They’re always nice,” Cotton said. “We have finger foods, some desserts and appetizers, but we always have a nice spread brought in by a caterer.”
The featured guest speaker during the 5-7 p.m. reception will be Habatat Galleries owner and founder Ferdinand Hampson, who will begin at 6 p.m.
“We’re very excited that Hampson will be here to talk about his connection with the Abrahamses and how he helped them obtain their collection,” she said. “I know he is highly respected for having founded Habatat, and we’re very lucky to have him at our opening.
“He’s one of the most knowledgeable people in the field, and he will come to talk about his relationship to the Abrahamess, and about helping them decide which things they would collect. He will also talk about the university and how he helped us with our collection, so it will be interesting,” Cotton said.
Those wishing to come to the reception should turn into the big boulevard entrance onto the University of Michigan-Dearborn main campus at 4901 Evergreen Road in Dearborn, between Michigan Avenue (U.S.-12) to the south and Hubbard Drive and Ford Road (M-153) to the north, with Southfield Freeway (M-39) running to the east between Exits 6 and 7. The library is a big red building with a big sign identifying it as the Mardigan Library, she said, near the entrance and across from the main parking lot.
The front door to the library is on the other side of the building, Cotton said, and people will see a sign directing them to the elevator, which will take them up to the Alfred Berkowitz Gallery on the third floor of the Mardigian Library.
“The library is pretty close to free parking, and there is plenty of parking available on a Friday night,” she said.
The opening hours for the Alfred Berkowitz Gallery are from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. For further information on the Feb. 19-June 15 exhibition, contact Cotton at (313) 593-3592.