Preston Singletary Exhibition at Museum of Glass

 

White Raven by Preston Singletary White Raven by Preston Singletary, 2017. Blown, hot-sculpted, and sand-carved glass. Courtey of the artist. Photo courtesy of Russell Johnson.

 

On view now at the Museum of Glass, Preston Singletary presents Raven and the Box of Daylight. Glassmaking, goldsmithing, and jewelry design go hand in hand. Sometimes it’s important to step out of the box and look at things from outside your usual box. This is why I’m writing about this exhibition.

Though the exhibit does not feature jewelry, the story just happens to hail from the oral traditions of the Tlingit people. If you recall, I recently mentioned the Tlingit people in a post about the Klondike Gold Rush Museum.

 

The Tlingit

The Tlingit peoples are indigenous tribes native to Southeast Alaska and Western Canada. In Alaska, they continue to occupy the coastal rainforest on the southeast shores. They also continue to occupy the Yukon area of Canada. Historically, they also lived in the Alexander Archipelago.

As mentioned in my previous article, a group of Tlingit tribes held control of the Yukon passes. This placed them at the heart of the Klondike Gold Rush.

Among the Tlingit, art and spirituality go hand in hand, as do the daily activities of life. Therefore, even such everyday objects as spoons and bowls are decorated in the imagery of their rich oral tradition.

Singletary draws upon this oral tradition to tell the story of Raven and the Box of Daylight in his latest exhibition at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma.

 

Preston Singletary

Preston Singletary, an indigenous artist from the Tlingit tribe, began working with glass in the early '80s. At some point along his path to mastery, Singletary discovered ways to blend his love for glass with his love for his culture.

He began experimenting with Tlingit designs formed in glass. In his lifetime, his achievements have positioned him to inspire other indigenous artists to manifest their cultural language and philosophies in non-traditional materials.

This evolution inspires all his work. His most recent is perhaps the most astounding immersive opportunity for museumgoers to experience the rich oral traditions of the Tlingit people.

 

Raven and the Box of Daylight

Perhaps one of the most important stories in the rich oral tradition of the Tlingit tribe, Raven and the Box of Daylight begins with an obsession.

Raven Devises a Plan

The Old Man at the Head of the Nass river tucked the sun, the moon, and the stars in three special boxes which he hid in a place of safety. Raven wants the light of the sun, the moon, and the stars for himself. Therefore, he devises a plan which he executes by first becoming a hemlock needle.

Meanwhile, the Old Man's daughter ventures out to pick blackberries beneath the hemlock tree. Raven drops himself into her water cup. When she swallows the needle in a drink of water, Raven implants himself into her womb.

Upon his birth as a boy, the Old Man devotes his affection to him, as he believes he is his grandson. He whines and complains until his grandfather gives in and gives him the box that holds the stars.

The Stars and Moon Escape

Transfixed by the light emanating from within, Raven opens the lid. The stars escape out the chimney and drift away into the heavens.

Next, Raven begs for the box with the moon. He takes the moon out and plays with it like a ball. Eventually, it escapes from his hands and rolls out the door to follow the stars into the sky.

Finally, Raven cries and begs until the Old Man gives him the box with the sun. Of course, the Old Man keeps careful watch over the boy with the sun. So though he wants to share his victory with his peers, Raven knows he cannot escape easily with it.

The Sun Joins the Moon & Stars

One night, after everyone else falls asleep, Raven transforms himself back into his bird form. He grasps the box in his beak and flies up through the chimney.

Full of pride, he boasts to those he meets that he has acquired the light of the sun for himself. To prove it, he opens the box. Alas, the sun flees the box and joins the moon and stars in the sky.

 

The Exhibition

In sculptures made of glass, accompanied by audio and video elements, Preston Singletary provides an immersive, multisensory exhibition that brings this important Tlingit story to life.

Set against the backdrop of shadows and projected images, the sculpted glass characters of Raven and the Box of Daylight appear to breathe with life. Projected through speakers, native Tlingit music overlays natural sounds of the Pacific Northwest coast.

As visitors walk through the exhibit, they also hear recordings of native Tlingit storytellers narrating the story. (Click here to listen to samples of the audio tracks.)

This immersive retelling of Raven's story is an important milestone in the continuation of the Tlingit oral traditions. Through the continued expression of art by indigenous peoples, their cultures live on, enriching the lives of all who participate.

To plan your visit to the Tacoma Museum of Glass, visit their website for details.