At 19, Preston Singletary was the night watchman at Rob Adamson’s Glass Eye studio in Seattle. Three months later he started blowing glass, working with his childhood friend Dante Marioni. Both artists credit a visit from Italian Maestro Lino Tagliapietra as well as Pilchuck classes with inspiring their subsequent successful careers in glass.
In the 1980s, Singletary began incorporating Tlingit designs into his work. By doing so he found not only a new artistic direction but a captive audience for glass that reflected the stories and symbols of his Native Southeast Alaskan tribe. Singletary transformed the notion that Native artists work best with traditional materials. The evolution of his glass working skills and designs along with his subsequent commercial success has positioned Singletary as a primary influence on contemporary indigenous art.
Wrote Matthew Kangas for Visual Art Source: “Making indigenous art releases the ego tied up with individual artistic expression in favor of a wider, collective surge and cross-cultural impact. Combining private and public commissions as well as mainstream gallery commitments, Singletary’s new work is advancing both glass and contemporary Native American art. He is perhaps now the leading artist doing so.”
Singletary’s astounding commissions include his glass Clan House screen and house posts at the Walter Soboleff Center in Juneau, Alaska. The screen depicts a Northwest Coast design in sandblasted glass. On the left stands an Eagle warrior; on the right stands a Raven. This screen measures approximately 11.5 feet high by 16 feet wide and weighs over 1000 lbs. It is comprised of 28 glass panels, 28 Plexiglas panels, and over 200 custom made mounting bolts.
More than five years in the making, Singletary’s Family Story Totems include three 7-foot tall 3-dimensional glass totem poles depicting a beloved family story about the artist’s great-grandmother. A collaboration with longtime friend and woodcarver David Svenson, the Family Story Totems are three of the largest cast glass sculptures in the world. From designing, to carving, to casting first in plaster, then bronze, then lead crystal - this project broke boundaries in art glass production. No other artist has attempted glass casting on this scale with this detail.
In terms of his gallery work, Singletary will exhibit new sculpture in Premonitions of Water at the Traver Gallery in Seattle from April 6 – 29, 2017. Opening in 2018 at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Raven and the Box of Daylight is the Tlingit story of Raven and his transformation of the world—bringing light to people via the stars, moon, and sun. A dynamic combination of artwork, storytelling, and encounter, the exhibition allows the treasured Tlingit creation myth to unfold during the visitor’s experience.
When he’s not making art, Singletary sings and plays bass with his band Khu.éex’ (pronounced koo-eex). This one-of-a-kind musical collaboration included the legendary late Rock and Roll Hall of Fame composer and performer Bernie Worrell of Parliament/Funkadelic and Talking Heads. Other bandmates include Skerik collaborator with Pearl Jam, Stanton Moore of Galactic, Captain Raab of Red Earth, and tribal members Clarissa Rizal, Gene Tagaban and Nahaan. Following their debut album, “The Wilderness Within," their second album “They Forgot They Survived” will be released on triple vinyl. We’ll hear a track, “Angry Bear,” later in the show.
Of the handful of Native Americans working in glass Singletary is a forerunner, using previously undeveloped techniques to revolutionize a new art form. The artist has unintentionally carved a place in history for himself by sharing Tlingit stories and traditions in the unexpected and technically challenging medium of glass.