Out of the Vault: Soundtracks with Preston Singletary

Making art from glass is time-consuming. It is an undertaking that can unfold over hours, but more often takes place over days, weeks, or even months. A great music playlist can be essential to keeping focused and staying creative. These playlists were the starting point for our exhibition Out of the Vault: Soundtracks. MOG Curator Katie Buckingham sat down with Preston Singletary to learn more about his work in the exhibition and his creative process.

KB: I was hoping we could start off with your take on Killer Whale Medallion, our recent acquisition from the Robert M. Minkoff Foundation Collection.

PS: It was designed from one of the posts in the Clan House piece that is part of the Museum’s collection. I was trying to figure out some small production pieces that would be easy to make and easy to sell. I took a killer whale form and had it carved in the negative (reverse) on a graphite slab, so that I could pour the glass onto that slab and quickly create Killer Whale Medallion.

KB:  That connection to Clan House is really interesting! I think it is important to also talk about the financial aspects of being an artist – Killer Whale Medallion is an example of how artists try to balance earning a living with creating new ideas and big projects.

PS: For sure. Owning a studio definitely takes vision and a labor of love. I started making that series about 15 years ago when I opened my studio. When I got the studio, I thought, well, I need to figure out how to make it pay for itself. So, I developed Killer Whale Medallion and other smaller scale pieces to try to make money.

KB: I’d love to hear about the playlist you shared with us. You’re the only artist in the exhibition who is also a musician, preforming with the Indigenous band Khu.éex’.

PS: Making the playlist was fun. Playing music was my first creative passion. I listen to music all the time. I love musical hybrids of different styles. I love funk, jazz, and rock. I tried to include a little bit of everything. That’s why I called it “Music that Made Me;” the playlist includes songs that shaped me and the way that I came to appreciate music. Talking Heads is especially important because they introduced me to funk. At the time, they were playing with this musician, Bernie Warrell, co-founder of Parliament Funkadelic. I made Bernie’s acquaintance and worked with him for three years. He was a great improviser and conduit for music, working with musicians from all around the world. Collaborating with him was a huge education in terms of what I knew about music and what I could do with it.

KB: Making music is collaborative, not unlike glassblowing.

PS: Yeah, it is. Music is a team sport, a language that people share. Once you understand the musical situation, you can embellish it in so many different ways. And that’s what I like about it.

KB: And where do you look for inspiration when you’re making new artwork?

PS: I am really fascinated with mythology and trying to imagine how new, contemporary mythologies merge with Native culture. I feel like Native art has been placed in an anthropological corral. I know that if my culture had not been invaded and interrupted, it would have continued to evolve creatively. Instead, today, Native art is much more multi-cultural. A lot of my work goes into non-Native households, whereas before my work would have been embraced by and represented in my own community. Instead, the work I make today gets shared with a larger audience, which is an important opportunity.

KB: KB: That’s interesting! How do you take that frame of mind with you when you work on exhibition like the Museum’s traveling exhibition Preston Singletary: Raven and the Box of Daylight?

PS: I feel like my work needs to show these ancient codes and symbols of the land and present my Native culture in a way that brings more awareness to it. If viewers haven’t seen Native art before, then the exhibition is an opportunity to learn and understand it on another level.

KB: When you’re working in your studio, what helps your creative process?

PS: I’m lucky to have my own studio in the South Lake Union neighborhood of Seattle. It has a glassblowing and a sandblasting studio, as well as space to mock-up larger installations. I used to have walls of CDs and albums in my office, but now I’ve imported everything onto my computer. But I have a large library and make sure to place books and art around me to create little zones for all of my creativity. I also have a study collection with Native masks and baskets, and other things for inspiration around my studio.

KB: When you’re working, how do you push through a creative block? What would you tell a student having trouble finding their creative rhythm?

PS: When I’m teaching, I try to encourage people to look at their own personal story. Everybody has a story, and everybody comes from somewhere. A lot of people tell me, “Oh, you’re so fortunate to have this rich Native heritage.” That does not necessarily make it easier – I still had a lot to learn in terms of the history, the stories, and the design system. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was kind of hard. I think that everybody who wants to be creative comes to a fork in the road, where you choose your influences and follow where they lead. But you have to add to your own story. When you dig deep and find your own creativity, then transform that into a visual form…that is awesome.

KB:  We’re so excited that Raven and the Box of Daylight is currently on view at Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. This project took us several years to realize – so what’s on the horizon for you and your work?

PS: I’m starting to think about how to add a contemporary twist to traditional stories. For the Tlingit people, Raven set the world in order and put things into motion to help mankind in this way. So, what is Raven doing now? Maybe he’s trying to combat climate change or looking for the missing and murdered Indigenous women. Maybe he’s discovered the residential school grave sites. This is a much broader world than just the Tlingit world, and my work can have an element of teaching, an element of raising awareness. The opportunity for storytelling is where my work is heading.

Check out Preston Singletary’s playlist on Spotify, and visit us at Museum of Glass to see more of our collection featured in Out of the Vault: Soundtracks.

About The Artist:
The art of Preston Singletary has become synonymous with the relationship between European glass blowing traditions and Northwest Native art.  His artworks feature themes of transformation, animal spirits, and shamanism through elegant blown glass forms and mystical sand-carved Tlingit designs. 

Singletary’s work is featured in Out of the Vault: Soundtracks, currently on display at Museum of Glass and open through June 18, 2023.

Learn more and view Singletary’s work at https://www.prestonsingletary.com/

  1. Preston Singletary working in his studio. Photo by Mac Holt.
  2. Preston Singletary (American Tlingit, born 1963). Killer Whale Medallion, 2010. Cast glass; 12 5/8 × 9 7/8 × 4 15/16 in. (32.1 × 25.1 × 12.5 cm). Collection of Museum of Glass, Tacoma, Washington, gift of the Robert M. Minkoff Foundation. Photo by Russell Johnson.
  3. Preston Singletary (American Tlingit, born 1963). Clan House (Naa Kahídi), 2008. Kiln-cast and sand-carved glass; water-jet cut, inlaid, and laminated medallion; 90 1/2 × 120 1/2 × 8 in., 600 lb. (229.9 × 306.1 × 20.3 cm, 272.2 kg). Collection of Museum of Glass, Tacoma, Washington, commissioned with funds provided by Leonard and Norma Klorfine Foundation. Photo by Russell Johnson.
  4. Detail of Clan House (Naa Kahídi) post with Killer Whale Medallion (blue). Photo by Russell Johnson
  5. Detail from Preston Singletary: Raven and the Box of Daylight showing the Nass River and the Fisherman of the Night. On view at Museum of Glass October 3, 2019 through September 2, 2019. Photo by Russell Johnson.
  6. Preston Singletary (American Tlingit, born 1963). Indian Curio Shelf, 2012. Mixed media, glass, and found objects; 58 1/2 x 23 1/2 x 24 in. (148.6 x 59.7 x 61 cm). Collection of Preston Singletary. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Five Minutes with Preston Singletary

Preston Singletary will be working in the Museum of Glass Hot Shop from May 11 to 15. Museum of Glass caught up with the Visiting Artist before his residency to talk a little about glass, family, and music.

Preston Singletary 1

I started working in glass when…

I got a job at Glass Eye Studio in 1982. I started as a “night watchman” filling the furnaces up and sweeping the floor. I started on the production floor four months later and made Christmas balls and paperweights.

The most rewarding aspect of my career is…

When I figured out how to connect my glass making to my Tlingit Alaskan Native heritage. It opened up many new perspectives and connected me to my roots.

Preston Singletary E-News April 2016

When I’m not in the studio…

I’m busy being a father and raising my two youngest kids. I also moonlight as a musician. I have been recording two different projects which connect to Tlingit culture in a contemporary way, the same way my glass does.

The last place I traveled to was…

Alaska to work on a piece I had installed last spring.

The best part about living in the Pacific Northwest is…

The community of artists and musicians. It’s a beautiful place that I’ve never found a reason to leave!

Plan a visit to Museum of Glass to see Visiting Artist Preston Singletary working or watch his residency online.

Connections through Art and Home – Made at the Museum: Native American Artists

By Beth Luce, Communications Manager at Pierce County Library System

One of the great events planned for Pierce County READS 2016 happens at Museum of Glass (MOG) on Thursday, March 17. It’s called Made at the Museum: Native American Artists.

It’s an interesting blend of pieces created by Native American resident glass artists over the past decade and the written art of Sherman Alexie.

The special display will include artist Corwin Clairmont’s piece, Traditional Cedar Bark Berry Basket.

Corwin N. Clairmont (Member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Indian Tribes, born 1946); Traditional Cedar Bark Berry Basket, 2009; Blown and hot-sculpted glass; Dimensions vary; Collection of Museum of Glass, Tacoma, Washington, gift of the artist.
Corwin N. Clairmont (Member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Indian Tribes, born 1946); Traditional Cedar Bark Berry Basket, 2009; Blown and hot-sculpted glass; Dimensions vary; Collection of Museum of Glass, Tacoma, Washington, gift of the artist. Photo by Duncan Price.

Here’s something he wrote about it: “The cedar basket is a reminder of the place we live, and a direct connection with our ancestors and the important lessons embedded in this wonderful form.

“Creating the cedar basket in glass is also a reminder of the fragileness of many things that the natural world provides, enabling the human being to survive. We need to be respectful of each other and that which makes up the natural world we live in. All is connected and a part of the great circle.”

We asked Clairmont a discussion question, inspired by Alexie’s best-known and most controversial book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Part-Time Indian

Can you have the same relationship with your home when you’ve moved beyond it?

Clairmont answered (in part) this way:  “Not sure if you can ever completely move beyond home as we are tied to the land/place, family, friends and tribal community.

“Leaving home can give you new and exciting experiences and provides insight and a variety of perspectives not found at home. It invites adventure and limitless growth potential.”

I’m looking forward to exploring what connects these two people and the other glass artists represented, including Preston Singletary, Raven Skyriver, Marvin Oliver and Joe Fedderson.

Preston Singletary (American Tlingit, born 1963); Killer Whale, 2009; Blown and sandcarved glass; 25 x 16 x 7 inches; Made at Museum of Glass, Tacoma, Washington, gift of the artist.
Preston Singletary (American Tlingit, born 1963); Killer Whale, 2009; Blown and sandcarved glass; 25 x 16 x 7 inches; Made at Museum of Glass, Tacoma, Washington, gift of the artist. Photo by Russell Johnson.

The Made at the Museum: Native American Artists and Pierce County READS book presentation takes place on Third Thursday, March 17, from 6 to 8 pm. Admission to Museum of Glass is free.

Find out more about Sherman Alexie and Pierce County READS 2016.

Beth Luce works at telling the story of Pierce County Library System, which has 20 locations throughout the county.

Docent Traver Trip 2014

By Lena Gibson, Museum of Glass Docent

On a rainy Tuesday morning, five docents (Carol, Annette, Mary, Lysa, and I), two staff
members (Elisabeth and Bonnie), and two guests made our way to the Traver Gallery in Seattle using our Sound Transit bus system. We did not all ride the same bus, and in fact, two didn’t ride the bus at all. For those of us who did, it was a lot easier than driving, once we had figured out which bus to take, where to park, etc.

Bill Traver gave us an excellent tour of his gallery. We went to see two of our favorite artists, whose exhibits were closing soon. April Surgent spent time in Antarctica and used a time lapse technique with pinhole cameras to capture the light and ice and water and wildlife of the area. She then translated the images she captured into glass, using her unique technique of cameo carving into different colored layers of fused glass. She had made quite a few pieces for this exhibit and Mr. Traver told us each were sold already. 12

Then we went to another area of the gallery to look at the latest pieces from Preston Singletary, another favorite glass artist we were well acquainted with. In this exhibit, one of the new features were that there were pieces done in pastel colors, like golden yellow and salmon pink. There were three extremely large glass baskets that came with their own stands. Many of the hand sculpted figurines on Preston’s rattles now had the addition of locks of real human hair3456

It was interesting to see other works in the Traver Gallery, from Chihuly, Nancy Callhan, and many others. We were intrigued by fused cane works from Sean Albert.

We also went downstairs and around the corner to the Vetri Gallery. We saw some very nice pieces from Gabe Feenan, as well as many other nice works by different glass artists.

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I took these photos, with the exception of the one with the pink and gold heads by Preston. That was taken by Mary Robinson.

After the galleries, most of us headed to Pike Grill Brewing Company for lunch and a chance to talk everything over. I learned a lot about Corning from Bonnie and her guest, Lee, who works there. The bus ride home was so much easier than a drive on I-5 south at that time of day.