With a lot of glass art, it seems that, as a viewer, I'm meant to marvel at its form, color, shape, and process—that molten sand, metal tools, and the sweat of humans can produce a single, delicate, slender-necked vase. Or tentacle. Or tropical bird. There's a confectionary nature to it. Somewhere I read that hot glass has the consistency of honey.
The work of Seattle artist Preston Singletary completely shifted my perception of what glass can look like and, most importantly, what glass can convey. Yes, Singletary is undoubtedly a master of form, color, and shape. He also has an immensely satisfying name. And he has harnessed the medium in a way that points away from the manufacture of cold objects and outward toward nature. His melding of his own Tlingit heritage to the European tradition of glass art brings the practice of glassblowing to an exciting new level.
During the month of April, Singletary will debut new pieces in an exhibition called The Illuminated Forest at Traver Gallery in downtown Seattle. Most of the pieces in the show are made of blown glass forms, birthed in his glass studio (with the help of his team) down in South Lake Union. The Illuminated Forest comes after the opening of Singletary's epic traveling exhibition at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Raven and the Box of Daylight, which tells the Tlingit origin story of Raven and his transformation of the world through glass.
The Traver Gallery exhibition is less narratively ambitious, but intriguingly its subject is the land and the forest. Many of the objects appear to be made of wood, and some of them originally were.
Transforming Killer Whale, for example, takes its inspiration from a totem pole, which it resembles, but instead of wood, it's made of murky yellow lead crystal. Produced in the Czech Republic, it depicts a creature that appears to be half human, half orca. Singletary and his team used the lost wax casting process from a wood carving to create the piece; if you sidle up close to it, you can even see the indentations of knife on wood. It gives the creation a texture that makes it hard to believe that it's glass and not something softer.
Another piece, Lost in the Forest, is a vase-like object depicting a land otter in traditional Tlingit style, balancing a mobile made of cast bronze twigs. "The land otter is a symbol of the shaman spirit helper," Singletary told me recently in his studio. "The idea there is that the land otter can exist in two different realms. He can swim off into the water or crawl around on land—so it's thought of as having supernatural power."
I'm obsessed with the way his pieces seem to emanate light. There's a duality in these objects—they're both opaque and bright. They seem to glow from an inner light source, the way light emanates from a gummy candy. And yet because he's depicting living things—otters, whales, humans—the radiance takes on a kind of living dimension.