The creative process is usually a solitary pursuit. Artists are known for holing up in their studios to summon the muse, reveling in their individuality as they execute their vision. But at Blue Rain, the art of collaboration-the commingling of symbols, mediums, talents, and inspiration-renders the process less an individual journey and more a celebration of shared vision and spontaneity. And the results are, in a word, stunning.
Tlingit glass artist Preston Singletary, whose groundbreaking partnerships with a variety of Blue Rain artists have yielded exceptional creations over the past few years, most recently teamed up with ceramicist Harlan Reano to showcase the beauty and versatility of traditional and contemporary Pueblo pottery designs rendered in glass.
“Collaborations are something I like to do because I learn how other people interpret their culture, and I learn new forms,” says Singletary. “My mission is to carve out a place for glass in the contemporary indigenous art market. Traditional materials are increasingly rare, so more contemporary artists are open to trying new materials, and it’s interesting to see how ancient symbolism can carry over into a new age.”
Glass is a new medium for Reano, but he’s no stranger to collaboration. A native of Santo Domingo/Kewa Pueblo, he regularly works with his wife, Cochiti potter Lisa Holt, to create enigmatic ceramic figures that follow the pottery tradition of using designs to chronicle the events and realities of Pueblo life. Where that originally meant symbolizing the water, animals, and plants that gave meaning and sustenance to the lives of prehistoric peoples, today it reflects the media-driven world of contemporary concepts and challenges.
“I’m inspired by the Cochiti figures of the late 1800s and early 1900s,” says Reano of the time when tourists first began visiting the pueblos, giving rise to clay sculptures representing these foreign figures. “I like to render them as superheroes, inspired by comic books,” he says, “because they refer to the modern world of media.”
Rendering these sculptures in glass opened up new creative possibilities for Reano, who carved the designs for the glass figures blown by Singletary. “With glass I can work with colors I don’t normally work with, and I’m excited to be trying something new and working in a different medium.”
The figures evince characteristics reminiscent not just of superheroes but also of space aliens, pan-Native designs like Polynesian tikis, masked warriors, and traditional Native symbols, combining the sculptural qualities of the clay with the luminous appeal and permanence of the glass while blending traditional forms with contemporary sensibilities.
“For a long time Native artists have been kept in a kind of cultural corral,” observes Singletary. “People say, ‘It’s not traditional,’ but these newly adapted forms prove we’re a thriving, living community, trying out new material and mediums.”