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Art & Culture

Singletary’s Tlingit Raven Rework

Singletary’s exhibit reworks Tlingit lore, showcasing a Raven’s tale through glass. His rework transcends mere art; it’s a cultural dialogue. With each rework, Singletary weaves ancestral voices into contemporary forms, inviting viewers into a Raven story reimagined, a narrative rework resonating with timeless themes.

In the rich tapestry of oral traditions, the Tlingit people have woven captivating stories of a mischievous all-white raven named Yéil. This raven, a trickster in many indigenous traditions of the Northwest Pacific Coast, embarks on an audacious quest to illuminate the world with the light of the sun, moon, and stars. To achieve this, Yéil undergoes a series of transformations, from a speck of dirt to a human child, eventually releasing the radiant light contained in a nobleman’s carved boxes. This ancient narrative has been brought to life in a groundbreaking exhibition by the renowned Tlingit American glass artist, Preston Singletary, titled “Preston Singletary: Raven and the Box of Daylight.”

Singletary’s fascination with this captivating story dates back to 2004 when his hand blown sculpture, “Raven Steals the Sun,” became part of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian’s collection. Almost two decades later, he returns to this narrative, creating over 60 glassworks that visually narrate the tale while complementing them with music and projections, providing visitors with an immersive experience.

The journey of bringing this narrative to life in an exhibition began with Singletary’s encounter with Tlingit historian and storyteller Walter Porter in 2004. Porter’s unique perspective, drawing parallels between the raven stories and various mythologies, captivated Singletary. This encounter marked the beginning of an educational journey for the artist, leading him to explore the universality of the raven’s significance in indigenous cultures.

Singletary’s artistic journey with glass started at Seattle’s Glass Eye Studio, where a friend assisted him in securing a job. It was at the Pilchuck Glass School that Singletary’s relationship with glass deepened, allowing him to “reinvent” himself through the medium. Despite not considering himself an artist initially, Singletary’s exploration of design and inspiration from art books shaped his artistic identity. In the current exhibition, his artistic evolution is evident in the more representational glassworks, influenced by music.

To convey the story accurately, Singletary delved into various versions of the “Raven and the Box of Daylight” story, drawing from the narrations of four prominent storytellers, including Walter Porter. His focus on the story’s intricate details and events allowed him to translate them into glass sculptures, enriching the narrative’s visual storytelling.

Singletary’s “Raven” exhibition goes beyond a traditional glass art display. Drawing inspiration from his passions for music, magic, and camera obscura, Singletary transforms the exhibition into a living story. Visitors physically journey through the raven’s transformation, symbolized by passing through a sculpted clan house entrance. This transition from outside to inside amplifies the immersive quality of the exhibition, providing a unique storytelling experience.

The exhibition incorporates a multisensory approach, with projections guiding the raven’s journey and a carefully crafted soundscape. Music, recordings of the Tlingit language, and visual elements such as smoke trails all contribute to the immersive atmosphere. Singletary’s strong connection to music finds expression in this exhibition, allowing visitors to experience the Tlingit language and culture.

As the raven, in human form, fulfills its quest by releasing the light, Singletary’s glassworks capture the world it encounters. The bright projections from zoe | juniper illuminate the glassworks, bringing to life creatures of the sea, land, and air in a dazzling display of colors and textures. This transformation showcases Singletary’s evolution as an artist and his dedication to pushing the boundaries of his craft.

For Singletary, “Raven and the Box of Daylight” marks a significant milestone in his career, but it also serves a broader purpose – to raise awareness among viewers about contemporary Native American art. Singletary emphasizes that Native American art was often excluded from the modern art world for most of history. This exhibition is a testament to the rightful place of indigenous art alongside the broader artistic landscape, offering a unique opportunity for a larger audience to engage with and appreciate the beauty and cultural significance of this remarkable art form.

As visitors step into this immersive reimagining of the Tlingit Raven tale, they embark on a journey that transcends time, culture, and art, all brought to life by the masterful hands of Preston Singletary and the captivating spirit of Yéil.

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