Showing For: August, 2013

Preston Wins Mayor’s Art Award

Preston Singletary is one of the 2013 Seattle Mayor's Art Award winners!

Preston giving his acceptance speech at Seattle Center.

It is with great pride that we announce Preston Singletary as one of the 2013 Seattle Mayor's Art Award winners!

As an award winner, Preston was profiled by Sam Machkovech in CityArts Magazine:

“I just put some shows up in San Francis—no, Santa Fe, sorry,” says artist Preston Singletary, as he walks me up the stairs of his glassblowing studio in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood. The 50-year-old Seattle native, and direct descendant of the Alaskan Tlingit tribe, apologizes for the scant selection of art he has on display today, just one week before he's set to receive a Seattle Mayor's Arts Award.

Many of his latest works, typically giant glass sculptures with Tlingit formline patterns sandblasted on their surfaces, have been shipped to galleries and private buyers across the country. This year's unseasonably warm summer is also to blame. “I'm shut down now,” he admits. “I'll get back to work when it's nicer to be around the fires.”

He points to a plaster cast of a totem pole that stretches over seven feet in the air. The final version of this totem pole, his first made entirely of glass, weighs over 2,000 pounds, so it's not convenient to keep at the studio. (That finished product didn't go to San Francisco or Santa Fe, by the way; those 2,000 pounds currently reside at a private home in Chicago.) He explains that the patterns along its surface tell a story, from the grizzly bear face that represents the cub his great-grandmother kept as a childhood pet to the killer whale that comes from his family crest.

The son of a Boeing engineer and an artistic mother, Singletary had his heart set on music, but his punk-rock leanings sputtered in the early '80s. His change of heart came while working the night shift at the glassblowing studio that eventually became Benjamin Moore, Inc. Soon after, he began studying at the Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, WA, working directly for school co-founder Dale Chihuly.

Singletary's artistic career began with simple, industrial glass designs, but the punk rocker quickly took an opportunity to rediscover his cultural roots—admittedly, sometimes through textbooks.

"Once I started to conjoin [glassblowing art] with my cultural background, I found a niche for myself," Singletary says. He points to his latest pre-production designs hiding in his studio's smallest room, all of which lean toward abstract modernism; he calls out inspirations such as Noguchi and Calder. When complete, the animal-inspired shapes will come to life with sandblasted formline patterns along their smooth curves. That oblong piece of glass is an exaggerated bear claw, another takes the form of a whale; a teardrop is going to be a geoduck, complete with bulges for shell and neck that will explode with color when the sandblasted edges are exposed to light.

Thirty years into a career that has frequently combined traditional iconography with beautiful abstraction, Singletary still feels strongly about his role as an artist and a storyteller, and the cultural struggles he's faced along the way. "Staunch, conservative Tlingit people say, 'This doesn't belong to Western world,'" he says, also noting that the Western world has, conversely, taken too long to recognize tribal art as a worthwhile part of the modern art movement. "But I feel like I'm sharing our wealth of art style and sculpture through what I do. It gives a different dimension to the art and culture."


Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn shaking hands with Preston after his acceptance speech. 


His contributions to dozens of galleries and public spaces—and board memberships at Seattle Art Museum, Pilchuck Glass School and Bainbridge's Islandwood Environmental School—are a testament to Singletary's ability to bridge that artistic gap, and this Mayor’s Arts Award reinforces what he’s accomplished in his home base of Seattle. "It's an honor to have that recognition," he says. "There was a time when I didn't know how [such an award] would quantify into something, but I guess I'm a spokesman for my own culture now. Lively public art support in the Seattle area gets the [Tlingit] message out to people and gives people a different perspective on things."

Looking back at his lengthy career, Singletary hopes his biggest legacy is to inspire other indigenous artists to follow suit. "Glass is a transformational medium, going from a liquid to a solid," he says. "The culture that I'm connected to is transforming itself. As we reiterate who we are, and what we do, we're declaring, this is now what we do. Working in new materials. Evolving as a new culture, and we should be allowed to."

- See more at:

The award ceremony took place at the Seattle Center North Fountain Lawn on Friday, August 30 at 4:00 pm.  The event was open to the public, and is a part of the kickoff event for the 43rd annual Bumbershoot Festival.

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The Start of a Busy Summer Schedule!

A rundown of our busy summer season!

Summer 2013 will be a very busy one for all of us at Preston Singletary Inc.!  

When Bears Could Talk, 2013 (Blue Rain Gallery)

We kicked off the summer with some new works at Blue Rain Gallery in their Group Glass Show, alongside Dante Marioni, Rik Allen, Shelley Muzylowski Allen, Nancy Callan, Sean O’Neill, Armelle Bouchet O’Neill, Benjamin Moore, Cassandria Blackmore, Sibylle Peretti, Jeremy Lepisto, and Elodie Holmes.  

Midway through June, Schantz Galleries unveiled some of Preston's new works for their summer season, and will release a catalog later in the summer.

Under the Still Water, 2013 (Schantz Galleries)

In July, Preston will travel to Chicago to install the first of three monumental Family Story Totems.  The totem will travel from the Czech Republic with members of the crew that cast it to install it in a very unique place - on the 62nd floor of a high-rise overlooking Lake Michigan!  The installation promises to be interesting, and there will be a film-crew recording it and the beginning stages of a new totem for a documentary about Preston that starts production this summer.

Thunderbird and Killer Whale, 2013 (Schantz Galleries)

Gray Goose, 2013 (Blue Rain Gallery)

August will be a VERY busy month:

  • Preston will have a solo exhibition at Blue Rain Gallery opening August 1 that will feature all new works.  
  • The following weekend, on August 9, Preston turns 50!  
  • The next weekend, SWAIA Indian Market in Santa Fe will kick off and Preston will add a few more pieces to his show at Blue Rain.  
  • He'll fly back to perform with Little Big Band at the Sky Church at EMP as a part of the Seattle Center Festál Indigenous Cultures Day on August 18.
  • August 23, Preston will celebrate his birthday with a private concert by one of his musical heroes, Bernie Worrell.
  • August 24, Little Big Band will open for the Bernie Worrell Orchestra at a public show at Columbia City's The Royal Room (tickets are still available!)

And that brings us to Labor Day Weekend, when we'll be celebrating a successful summer season, rest a little, and get ready for 3 more shows in the fall!

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Preston Singletary’s Coppers

The artwork of Preston Singletary is rich with cultural symbolism. Here, we will help explain some of the artistic, spiritual, historical, and anthropological meanings behind some of Preston’s most recognizable works. This week is the copper shield form.

The artwork of Preston Singletary is rich with cultural symbolism.  He is often asked about the different forms and symbols used in the pieces he makes, so we are starting a blog series that will help explain some of the artistic, spiritual, historical, and anthropological meanings behind some of Preston’s most recognizable works.


Symbolic Wealth, 2009


For our first post, we will look at the Tináa, or Copper Shield form.  Preston has used it several times in various works throughout the years.   He references it as an item of clan treasure and symbolic wealth.

Family Story Totem (detail), 2013 and Family Story Totem, 2004

According to anthropologists, the copper shield form, or tináa, is ancient and possibly Asiatic in origin (dating from before the peoples now known as Native Americans crossed the land bridge more than 12,000 years ago).  They symbolized the wealth of the clan, both due to the monetary value of the copper and other supernatural meanings attributed to copper as it occurs in nature.  In many myths, the discovery of copper was tantamount to an encounter with a supernatural being.  Although copper was historically used only by a chief, myths sometimes portray the discoverer of copper as low in status, with their status rising when they find it.  The discovery of copper not only gives the finder tangible evidence of contact with the supernatural, but also manifests the element of luck, which has its own magical connotations.  The discovery of copper in its natural state ensured wealth.  Wealth was considered the outward manifestation of power, which was believed to be supernaturally endowed or acquired. 

Copper Totem, 2009

From Northwest Tribal Arts:

The "Copper" was used by the First Nations people as a form of money and wealth. It was made out of "Native" copper which was found in the land where they lived, and superficially resembled a shield. Considered very rare and hard to obtain, raw copper was traded from the Athabaskan Indians in the Interior Plains, or from the white man in later times.

Coppers were beaten into shape and usually painted or engraved with traditional designs. Most Coppers were fairly large, often 2 to 3 feet tall and a foot across.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Copper is that they were given names so that their worth and heritage could be passed on. A Copper was only worth what it was last traded for, and it could only be traded for a larger amount the next time around. Consequently, some Copper values became highly valuable - worth the total of 1,500 to 2,000 blankets, a couple of war canoes and hundreds of boxes and bowls.

No matter what the original value was the next person who wanted it had to trade more in exchange for it. Only the richest and most powerful could afford the price of an old Copper. Many Coppers were in rather shabby condition as a result of having been used in quarrels between Chiefs.

To the Kwakiutl, the ownership and display of a Copper became an essential for the proper conduct of a marriage or important dance ritual.


A man whose family's honour had been injured by the actions of remarks of another would publicly have a piece cut from a valuable Copper and give the piece to the offender. That person was obligated to cut or "break" a Copper in return. The broken pieces could be brought up and joined into a new Copper or used to replace pieces missing from a "broken" one.

The most valuable Kwakiutl Coppers tend to be rough and patched since they have the longest history and have been broken the most often. Coppers that have been broken have a certain prestige value that is quite independent from their monetary value.

Tináa, 2001

More information and discussion on Coppers can be found in this book, available online:
Coppers of the Northwest Coast Indians: Their Origin, Development and Possible Antecedents by Carol F. Jopling. 

Historical Image via the Canadian Museum of Civilization:

For nearly two years after his death, the body of Chief Skowl lay in state inside his house at Kasaan, Alaska. The burial chest, draped with a button blanket, is surrounded by storage chests filled with his regalia; beside the burial chest are his eight copper shields. The people in the photo are his slaves, who were displayed as part of his wealth.

Photograph by Albert P. Niblack, 1883

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Partners in Mythology: Preston Singletary and Walter Porter

Walter Porter is an Alaska Native Mythologist that has collaborated and acted as a mentor for Preston for many years. Learn more about him and his relationship with Preston's work in this post and at his website.

For many years, Preston has worked closely with Alaska Native mythologist Walter Porter to give greater culutral meaning to his pieces.   Walter speaks about the wisdom and knowledge that has been protected for us by our ancient Elders and how they cleverly disguised this information in mythology so it would come down safely to us through the ages. With rising crime, social problems, environmental impacts on commuities and illnesses at the forefront of our concerns today, he points out how mythology holds many answers for us to regain control of our communities and lives by understanding them.


Via Walter Porter:

Walter Porter is a Tlingit Indian from Yakutat Alaska. He was born in Yakutat in 1944 and moved to Haines, Alaska in 1956. He graduated in 1962 and traveled for 10 years and moved back to Yakutat. He spent a good deal of his boyhood years listening to his grand mother and other elders tell mythologies and legends that were handed down to them by their elders.

When he moved to Haines, he joined the Chilkat Dancers performing dances that were Tlingit Mythologies put into dance. In the mid 80’s he was invited to be the host on the “Box of Daylight” video put together by Sealaska Foundation, Alaska State Museum, Klukwaan Heritage, Alaska Humanities Forum and others.

He discovered at that time similarities with the Box of Daylight and other spiritual information he had been studying over the years. He has since then put together presentations showing how elders understood these stories and how they successfully used them to develop leadership, social, economic and healing skills to build strong and stable communities.

When lecturing or holding workshops, Walter invites his audience to look closely at the symbols in the story he is working with and gives them alternative meanings to choose from.  By allowing the audience or students to participate, the experience becomes more meaningful as they begin to understand and see the wisdom and knowledge of our elders unfolding from ancient times to present.


Preston and Walter at the Alaska Native Cultural Conference in 2007.

Preston and Walter worked together to create a lecture called "Spokesmen For Culture" at the Museum of Glass in connection to his exhibiton Preston Singletary: Echoes, Fire, and Shadows.  Walter was even one of the guest essayists in the catalog, writing about the cultural significance of the Raven Steals the Light myth.  They will be collaborating again soon for a major project surrounding the Raven myth, which we'll tell you about as details are finalized.

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Glassblowing Demonstration in Czech Republic

This photo set gives us a look at the glassblowing demonstration that Preston and Dante performed at the Ajeto Glassworks Museum in Nový Bor, Czech Republic.

In February, Preston traveled to the Czech Republic with Totem project manager Charlie Parriott, his long-time friend and fellow glassblower Dante Marioni, and photographer Russell Johnson.  Russell's photographs captured the trip in documentary form, which we'll continue to share with you in the coming weeks.

Dante takes a photo of a castle on the way to the glass museum in Nový Bor, Czech Republic.

The Ajeto Glassworks and Museum, Nový Bor.

This photo set gives us a look at the glassblowing demonstration that Preston and Dante performed at the Ajeto Glassworks Museum in Nový Bor, a town about 60 miles north of Prague.  The museum's hot shop provided several different viewing areas, including their restaurant!


Preston and Dante hope to return to Ajeto for a longer residency, where they will make a collaborative body of work that may tour museums throughout the Czech Republic and Eastern Europe.

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