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Preston Singletary: Reflections on a Tribal Legend

May 25th, 2016

Award-winning artist Preston Singletary is well known for his ability to shed light on his ancestral history. He draws upon its rich cultural treasure to create his highly sought-after fine art glassworks. Blue Rain Gallery has just received Killer Whale Totem, a striking new limited edition piece with a unique character.

Singletary is a member of the Tlingit tribe and the Kagwaantan house group. The killer whale represents his family crest and this sculpture was inspired by its creation story. Legend has it that a man named Natslinae carved a whale figure out of wood and brought it to life to take revenge on his brothers-in-law who were jealous of his success in life. Once he’d carried out his act of revenge, says Singletary, “Natslinae instructed killer whales never to harm man again-there are even historic accounts of these whales chasing seals toward hunters in their canoes, of being a helper to man. This totem is a very literal interpretation of a traditional model totem.”

With the formation of this distinctive piece, Singletary moves to a glass casting process. To cast glass requires collaboration. After he conceived the design, he worked with master woodcarver David Franklin to develop the form. A casting mold is created from the wood original and an open-face mold is created out of steel, into which the liquid glass is dripped and then pressed to increase detail. Once the glass has cooled, the back is polished and then cold-fused to the base. The piece is then dipped in or sprayed with hydrofluoric acid to create a satin finish.

Singletary had these works produced in the Czech Republic, home to some of the best glass technology in the world. They still make lead crystal, which is no longer done in the United States. Lead crystal, as anyone knows who has enjoyed the iridescent sparkle and weight of Waterford or Steuben glassware, has a reflective quality all its own.

As with each of his marvelous artworks to flow from inspiration to completion, Preston Singletary’s Killer Whale Totem proves he can adopt new methods, connect his cultural perspective to current modern art movements, and keep his work fresh and relevant.


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