Wilbat, 68, has been showing his work in Michigan for decades and continues to have Jewish clients in the state.
James Wilbat is bringing glass Judaica art objects to Michigan for the summer art fairs. Although he does not practice Judaism, his wife and children do; and he joins the traditions.
Menorahs and Dreidels are among the pieces he will be exhibiting at the Orchard Lake Fine Art Show July 30-31 near Maple and Orchard Lake streets in West Bloomfield. He also regularly brings his work to events in Ann Arbor and Birmingham.
“I started making Judaica products after I married my dear wife, Cara, who runs my business, in 1986,” Wilbat said. “I surprised them with a menorah for Hanukkah and their relatives started to see what I was doing. They asked me to do other things for gifts.
“I started making Dreidels because I have a familiar design in one or two of my paperweights. After the Menorahs and Dreidels, I started making personalized children’s mugs for relatives for Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs and Yads for reading the Torah.
“Every time I conquered something I was happy with, I pushed myself with another one. What other items could I make out of glass? They were a big hit with me.”
Wilbat, 68, has been showing his work in Michigan for decades and has made many friends.
“I continue to have Jewish clients in Michigan,” said Wilbat, whose work is also featured in galleries. “They became friends and invited me to their house. I can stay and save on hotel bills or just have dinner with them. They are no longer just customers. They support my work and I really appreciate that.
“I have been organizing summer art fairs since 1985. Because of the relationships I’ve had, I meet many wonderful people. I see all my friends at the race track. Even against the weather, it’s fun to be outside at the weekend.”
Wilbat, attracted to color, took up painting. He switched to ceramics with an urge to get into three-dimensional work, but was not satisfied with the glaze. A friend encouraged him to turn to glass.
In 2022 he received awards including an Award of Excellence from the Boca Raton Museum of Art Show, an Award of Excellence from the Lincoln Roscoe Art Show in Chicago, and a Judges Selection Award from the Cain Park Arts Festival in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
He was also on the jury of art programs.
Wilbat, who earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Illinois State University and his Master of Fine Arts from the University of Kansas, lives in suburban Chicago and drives 12 miles to his studio.
Artistic endeavors fuse ancient approaches to glassblowing with modern design theories. His style has grown by drawing on his background in ceramics and his experience in drawing and painting. His equipment includes a furnace, a post-heating chamber and special furnaces.
This year he joins about 100 other artists in West Bloomfield, where there will be different types of distinctive artworks in many materials, along with a variety of food stalls and entertainers. The event, organized by Patty Narozny, will take place on Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and on Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
All artwork is judged and handcrafted in America.
Dining includes services from Flavors of Jamaica, El Patio Mexican Restaurant, Intu Tea, Cinnabon, Zingerman’s Gelato, Little Jimmy’s Italian Ice, Sheepdog Kettle Corn, and Detroit Smoothie Spot. Entertainment hosts Saturday and Sunday with Sheila Landis on Sunday programming.
The Professional Artist Awards will be presented on Saturday at 3pm based on Technique/Execution, Originality and Stand Appearance. The Youth Awards will be presented on Sunday at 3pm at the Raymond James Youth Art Competition.
“Probably eight years ago, I first did Patty’s show in West Bloomfield and took over her other shows in Florida,” Wilbat said. “I like her as a director and she organized things pretty well.
“I’ve been exhibiting in Michigan since 1986, so I have a big following there and a big client base. You have been so generous in supporting me over the years that I have been making glass.”
The Orchard Lake Fine Art Show will be held Saturday through Sunday, July 30-31 near Maple and Orchard Lake streets in West Bloomfield. 10am-6pm Saturday; 10am-5pm Sunday. $5. Free parking behind the medical center. (248) 762-2462. Hotworks.org.