A WASHINGTON gallery owner at the recent opening of a ceramics exhibit was escorting two of her guests out the door on Connecticut Avenue when suddenly she stopped short, sucked in her breath and struck an awesomely Wagnerian pose.

She lifted one hand, extended her index finger heavenward and exclaimed: "Mark my words. Glass is the art of the '80s." And then repeated it twice more.

"Glass is the art of the '80s." The third time with added emphases: "Glass if the art of the '80s."

A year or two ago, such statements might have been brushed off as baseless bravado, or plain craziness. Today glass, as a craft and an art, shows signs not of falling, but leaping into favor among collectors and investors.

In some cases, at least, individually crafted glass is selling faster than the artists can make it. And though some bargains are waiting to be discovered, prices generally have already passed the rate of inflation and are pulling away faster than Republican candidates after a Carolina primary.

"Everything has been falling into place since 1964," said Edward Garfinkle, owner, with wife Frances, of the Tiffanee Tree crafts gallery in Georgetown. "But the market wasn't ready then. Just a year and a half ago it was a struggle to sell a piece of glass. We considered dropping out of art glass because it wasn't paying for itself. Now we're opening a new gallery."

Indeed, the Tiffanee Tree has been so successful with glass at its store in the Canal Square mall that it has acquired 3,000 square feet of gallery space a few blocks away on Wisconsin Avenue. Artists who once could only get exposure by selling on consignment there now demand cash upfront, and even then can hardly keep up with demand, Garfinkle says. When quoting prices, he needs help from his salespeople to get the latest figures.

As far as many gallery owners are concerned, this is not a trend. This is an explosion.

Traditionally, art glass has been the territory of such studio giants as Tiffany, Steuben, Lalique, Baccarat, Daum and Orrefors. But in the 1960s the craft experienced a reawakening here. Facilities for glass blowing, so necessary to producing professional glass, began springing up in a number of universities around the country.

In the intervening years, the few American masters have been turning out skilled students to spread the word. From such centers as the Rhode Island School of Design, Cranbrook Academy, the University of Wisconsin, Northern Illinois and the University of California at Berkeley, talented glassmakers have started a movement of individual artists craftment and teams producing glass to lure both investors and those who have learned to appreciate the art.

Washington may be a little behind. Aside from a handful of skilled stained-glass makers, the area has been notably bereft of glass artisans. But the exhibition of glass baskets by Dale Chihuly last year at the Renwick Gallery lit the fuse, says Garfinkle, to this area's erupting interest in art glass.

Recently two Washingtonians, Margie Jervis and Susie Krasnican, both former students of Chihuly, set up shop in Falls Church.

Although they still lack many of the facilities they need, and complain that "there's no place to show in Washington," their work has been exhibited at Eveleth and Summerford, Associates in Bethesda, Contemporary Art Glass in New York, and is included in two upcoming shows.

Washingtonians who visited the recent crafts show in Baltimore enjoyed a preview to the enthusiasm gallery owners feel. The craft-wise claim glass stole the show. But you needn't wait for the orders they placed there to appear on Washington store shelves. The current Renwick exhibit (see Form, Page 1) has already provided the impetus for a number of sales in local galleries and shops.

There you will find production pieces from up-and-coming studios in West Virginia and California, as well as a good stock from the firmly established ones in France, Denmark and Sweden. Besides fairer weather, this year's spring breezes promise the greatest selection of one-of-a-kind pieces by individual glass artists this city has ever seen.

The following describes some of what glass enthusiasts can look forward to:

Renwick Museum Shop. Along with many observers, Smithsonian officials believe the coming months will see terrific buying of art glass. So they have decided to increase the selection at the Museum of History and Technology shop and to run two major sales exhibits in the Renwick Museum Shop, starting last Friday and running through Sept. 28

Both are two-part affairs. The first continues through May 23 and consists of the works of three masters, all represented in the museum show as well: Dominick Labino, Harvey Littleton and Marvin Lipofsky. Each artist is expected to display three to six works, ranging in price from $550 to $6,500, said Smithsonian buyer Lisa Wanderman.

On April 23, the masters will be joined by works of their students: Dorit Brand, Paulo Dufouf, John Littleton, Kate Vogel, Andy Magdanz and Lori Lipsman. They will exhibit through June 8.

The second hald of this sales effort begins June 13 and continues through Sept. 26. During those months, a total of about 30 artists who are in the museum exhibit will show two to four sculptural pieces each. They will be in two groups, the first to show through Aug. 3, the other to begin showing Aug. 8.

Prices for their work are expected to vary between $100 to $1,000. "It is a phenomenal explosion of interest in glass," said Wanderman. "People are finally beginning to turn toward Americans."

Tiffanee Tree. Edward and Frances Garfinkle stuck with glass to build one of the city's finest sales collections of American art glass. On any good day you can see there the work of many artists in the Renwick exhibit, with a heavy accent on California: elegant bowls by Michael Gohn that sell for $180 to $250; non-functional teapots in multi-colored crazyquilt and checkerboard patterns by Richard Marquis, $600-$700; a stunning orange basket by Dale Chihuly, $1,000.

Many of the pieces are new and separate themselves from craft and sculpture.

The work of John Kuhn, also in the Corning show, is one example: The hot glass is rolled in chemicals and beaten to look like stone. But a portion is cut away and polished, providing a window on another world of dazzling, mystifying colors ($600). The glass of Randy Perkins, also from California, is shaped into a cowboy hat.

Tiffanee Tree, like a handful of other Washington-area stores, also carries pieces from the Correia studio in California and work by James Lundberg. Both bear striking resemblances to the art nouveau work of Tiffany. Unlike most galleries, however, Tiffanee Tree displays artist proofs of Correia, the newer one hinting at a departure from the derivative style.

The studio prices hover around $90; artist proofs, $150. Those compare to prices ranging from $200 to $1,000 for individual pieces executed and signed by the artist himself.

Through the end of the month, Tiffanee Tree continues the one-man show of works by John Nygren. These are decidedly different from the rest, looking like precious Oriental jars covered with striking black branches blooming into flowers of white. April 4 through 27, however, the Garfinkles turn the gallery over to eight glass artists, seven of whom are included in the Corning exhibit: Robert Hurlstone, Herbert Babcock, Rick Bernstein, Paul Marioni, Tom McGlauchlin (one of the old masters of the media), William Morris, James Nieswaag and Steven Weinberg.

Eveleth and Summerford, Associates. An antique store at 4918 Del Ray Ave. in Bethesda, Eveleth and Summerford is another shop that got hold of glass early and has stayed with it through recent developments. More than 20 glassmakers from the U.S. and around the world show continuously in the back of the store. Among them are several included in the Corning show.

Greenwood Gallery. Carolyn Hecker and her crew have long been the Washington base for the American Crafts Council. Friday Hecker finally opened the Greenwood Gallery at 2014 P St. NW where some of the country's finest craftsmen will show their work. The opening show, which continues through April 26 includes Susie Krasnican and Margie Jervis, Ray King, Patrick Reyntiens and Albinas Elskus.

Glassman Fritz Dreisbach's work will be on display in May. At the end of that month he will teach a class in the art. A week later, Marvin Lipofsky will teach one as well and may show some of his pieces, says Hecker, if he has enough left to make a go ot it.

Seraphy Gallery. Located practically around the corner from Tiffanee Tree and one of the city's foremost pottery galleries, the American Hand, Seraph continuously displays work in a number of crafts: fibers, wood, glass and clay. A week ago they opened an exhibit of glass pieces by former students of Dale Chihuly: Michael Glancy, William Dexter, James Harmon, Howard Ben Tre and Margie Jerivs and Susie Krasnican. Harmon, Dexter and tre are represented in the Corning exhibit as well.

At this exhibit, Washingtonians can see some of the most recent work being done with sandblasting, a technique relatively new to art glass but already catching on in the world's major studios. The technique calls for hand-blown or cast "blanks," large thick forms weighting sometimes 20 pounds or more. Jervis and Krasnican can't handle that load, so they have to travel to Rhode Island where James Harmon makes them, in exchange for hand-sewn shirts, trousers and vests.

The blanks are then bandaged with a resilient rubber-like material and portions blasted away. Later they are decorated. The process can involve months, which helps explain the $800 and $900 price tags for a single item. Jervis and Krasnican stick to the bowl form, incorporating, at times, designs of severe lines, at other times undulating curves. Some of Tre's cast and blasted pieces look like space-age building blocks.

Harmon's own works are wistful blown pieces with slashes of color. William Dexter's are as precious as porcelain, with holes and streaks like ice melting on a fast running stream.

The Seraph exhibit continues through Arpil 5.

Jackie kChalkley. Jackie Chalkley, with her gallery of good pots and crafted fibers wearables in Foxhall Square, has done much to bring crafts to the upper northwest area of Washington. For two weeks in April, however, she, too, turns her attentions to new American glass.

From next Sunday until April 12 Chalkley displays the work of 18 glass blowers. Three of them, Rick Bernstein, John and Jan Gilmore and Josh Simpson, are in the Corning show. Some, such as Mary Angus, Bill LeQuier and Art Reed, support themselves with work from their studios. Others, such as Bill Carlson of the University of Illinois and Kathleen Mulchy of Carnegie Mellon Institute, live by teaching and make glass on the side. John and Jan Gilmore and Josh Simpson make both production and one-of-a-kind glass.

All have contributed two to five pices to this show. Prices start at about $60 and go up to $750.

Barbara Fendrick Gallery. Glass is nothing new to Fendrick, who consistently shows some of the country's top artists at her Georgetown gallery. April 8 through May 10 the gallery is devoted to works by two craftsmen in the Corning show: Dale Chihuly and Tom Patti. Chihuly will display eight sets of his blown baskets, blithe and wistful forms with streaks of color. Patti will show about a dozen pieces. His work should by then be familiar to most glass friends, as it graces both the Renwick show catalogue cover and posters, and is displayed in Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Fendrick expects prices in the $2,500-to-$10,000 range.

The Craftsmen of Chelsea Court, on Connecticut Avenue just below Dupont Circle, was one of the first craft galleries in Washington. This boutique's pottery and glass is consistently underpriced. The shop policy is to keep everything at $100 or less because, says one salesperson, "our customers just wouldn't stand for prices any higher." Many of the artists are just emerging from obscurity. "We don't care if they're well known or not."

The selection of blown glass includes work by John Kuhn, Robert Eikholt and Donald Carlson and Michael Nourot. Some of the best is by Charles Corell and Robert Stephan, who seem to be moving out of the Court's price range.

The store plans nothing special during the Renwick exhibit, but expects new shipments, including a load from the Baltimore show.

J. E. Caldwell Co. Caldwell has opened three stores in the Washington area, but none can claim an art glass exhibit like the one on Connecticut Avenue, across the street from the Mayflower Hotel. In fact, this store has the largest selection of imported art glass in the area. Besides its Baccarat and Orrefors, it has, says general manager Mel Schmidt, the first Lalique gallery in the country, and one of the largest.

Worth the trip downtown alone is the spectacular solid glass table, a fountain of glass priced at $25,750.

A jewelry store at heart, Caldwell fares well with glass collectors, says Schmidt. "We have people who walk through the front door and right up here" to the gallery at the rear of the store.

In the Lalique collection are several new designs by Marie-Claude Lalique, the granddaughter of company founder Rene Lalique. Like most studios, Lalique is supported by a bread-and-butter line of small sculpted figures, mostly animals. These steady sellers support Marie-Claude's ventures into color, such as the $490 bowl with crafted amber serpents on either side. Lalique is also trying sandblasting, as with a container surmounted by a pale green oak-leaf pattern.

A superb bowl with opalescent orchids sells for $860. Tumbler glasses, each set with four glass buttons, one with lime green, one violet and one turquoise, cost $53 a glass.

"We knew that if we could get a committment from Lalique to keep them in stock, we'd have no problem selling it," says Schmidt of his sales. "Our problem is keeping it in stock."

Caldwell's also has a large display of glassware from the Correia studio.

Bloomingdale's. Bloomies selection at White Flint Mall is not as grand as one might expect. But it does have one thing most other stores don't. That's the stem glasses by the German company, Rosenthal, included in the Renwick show. These vessels, for wine, champagne, brandy and cordials, bloom like a fresh flower from a long stem of pale green. A subtle and charming effect for $36 each.

Bloomingdale's also carries a variety of Orrefors and Baccarat.

Other Places. Most major department stores, including Garfinckel's Woodward and Lothrop and Hecht's, carry such names as Orrefors. Neiman-Marcus sells Baccarat as well, one of the newer designs being a horse head priced at $5,000. You can also try Hallmark stationery stores, or the many jewelry stores and boutiques, among them Ursell's home furnishings store, the Design Store and Showcase, all in Georgetown.