Tlingit artist Preston Singletary first started blowing glass at 19 years old, working at Seattle's Glass Eye Studio, and later studied at the Pilchuck Glass School. There he learned from American glass artist Dante Marioni and Lino Tagliapietra, a world-famous Venetian glass-blower from the Italian island of Murano, the Mecca of glass art. Singletary's artworks are exhibited at the British Museum in London, the Museum of Fine Arts of Boston, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Heard Museum in Phoenix, and he is represented by the Blue Rain Gallery? (Santa Fe), the Spirit Wrestler Gallery (Vancouver), and the Traver Gallery (Seattle).
Your work is a harmonious mix of traditional patterns and highly sophisticated modern designs — what is you creative process?
I studied the Tlingit mythology and symbolism with Elders, adapting the culture to the glass, incorporating Tlingit designs in which symbolic emblems represent specific families. I come from a family of eagle and raven, wolf and bear. In the old days, you would not marry in your own group — that is how they kept the bloodline. I did not go to school, so — looking at primitivism, and modern art, admiring Picasso, Henry Moore, Jackson Pollock — I made decorative art, transitioning it to Native designs, adapting bowls, sculptures. Understanding the balance and proportions, I have the freedom to create new designs and shapes.
Is glass-blowing a common art form among Native Americans ?
No. I am the only Tlingit glass-blower today, and an ambassador among Natives for glass blowing. I teach, and collaborate with other Native artists, Hawaiians, Maori — It is great to learn how contemporary Natives interpret their traditional cultures in their work.
So how do you see the evolution of glass-blowing among Native artists?
The glass is a transformational medium, changing liquid into solid. As it changes throughout the day, with the light casting shadows, it becomes a kinetic representation, bringing a different kind of attention, and another dimension to indigenous art. The shaping of the glass creates a distinctive, modern signature. We, as Natives, should evolve towards using new materials. Personally, I do have a sense of purpose, representing my culture with the glass.