Photo by Laura Marie Rivera
Seattle glass artist Preston Singletary stands in front of La Diab Pish, his glass and steel octopus sculpture, at Climate Pledge Arena. He is wearing an ivory bear claw necklace commemorating the kakawin-chealth name, which means ‘transforming killer whales,’ bestowed upon him by Nuu-chah-nulth artist and his tribal elder mentor Joe David, who he met at Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood.
Photo by Laura Marie Rivera Seattle glass artist Preston Singletary stands in front of La Diab Pish, his glass and steel octopus sculpture, at Climate Pledge Arena. He is wearing an ivory bear claw necklace commemorating the kakawin-chealth name, which means ‘transforming killer whales,’ bestowed upon him by Nuu-chah-nulth artist and his tribal elder mentor Joe David, who he met at Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood.

Seattle glass artist Preston Singletary is making a name for himself in the state and around the country this year, but the Native American artist’s 2022 is special in more personal ways, too.

Last October’s installation of his glass and steel octopus sculpture, La Diab Pish, at the Seattle Center kicked off what is turning out to be a strong year for Singletary. He was also named as James Renwick Alliance for Craft’s 2021 Master of the Medium for glass. In January of this year, Singletary’s show “Raven and the Box of Daylight” opened at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., and he received the Artist Trust’s 2022 Arts Innovator Award.

In February it was announced that Singletary had been elected to the American Crafts Council’s 2022 College of Fellows. And on June 25, a very personal totem commemorating his family history will be installed in Sitka, Alaska. As well, this year, he has been featured in The Seattle Times, Smithsonian Magazine and the cover of UrbanGlass Art Quarterly.

“After 39 years working as a glass artist, I am now an overnight sensation,” Singletary joked.

Singletary is a Native American glass artist who has deep ties to the local arts community and to Alaska’s Tlingit tribe. He was born in San Francisco but grew up in Seattle, attending Lincoln High School in Wallingford. He currently lives in Queen Anne.

His advice for up-and-coming artists and perhaps even his younger self is that “Good things come to those who work hard.”

“If you want to be an artist, you have to work all the time: volunteer, work for free, learn through practical experience,” Singletary said.

Before discovering the world of glass, he described his younger self as “a dreamer, social with friends, easily distracted, but intent on chasing a life as a musician.”

He played piano, bass and guitar, and still does in his spare time.

At the age of 19, he went to work at the Seattle Glass Studio. After six months as the night watchman, he was offered the opportunity to learn how to make paperweights and holiday ornaments. He got to help his friend-turned-mentor Dante Marioni work, and the monetary incentive for making more pieces “felt special,” he said.

While Singletary became a student at Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, he developed his talents through work and mentorships along the way.

He was helped along by the late Benjamin Moore — one of the most influential American glassblowers according to “UrbanGlass” — and the late Marvin Oliver, an indigenous American artist and University of Washington professor.

In 2010, he was awarded an honorary PhD from University of Puget Sound. He is also a teacher and a member of the Pilchuck Glass School Board of Trustees.

As a successful working artist, he is now also an employer. His studio is run as a corporation with dedicated employees that take the work very seriously. In addition to employing full-time and part-time contractors to help create his works, he partners with wood carvers and glass and metal fabricators.

“I did not know I’d end up running a corporation, but once I entrusted steps to different people, it became very liberating,” Singletary said.

It took the entirety of his team to bring “Raven and the Box of Daylight” to fruition. It is a large-scale, immersive art experience that tells the story of the Tlingit legend.

The installation combines video and projected sounds to envelop the viewer and highlight the glass sculptures that are bringing the story to life.

Singletary said the raven story is a personal favorite of the artist and has been told in many iterations throughout past generations. This exhibit was first shown at the Tacoma Museum of Glass in 2019 and later at the Wichita Art Museum on its way to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, where it is on display through the year.

Another deeply personal work is the bronze Family Story Totem that will be installed in Sitka, Alaska, later this month. It shares some of his Tlingit family history, specifically the story of his grandmother, Susie Johnson.

According to Singletary’s family history, she had a pet grizzly bear that liked the sweet taste of taffy when she was young. The totem portrays a grizzly, his grandmother with a blanket, an orca and an eagle. Singletary sees the work as elevating storytelling and using the visual language of the oral tradition to return the spirit of his grandmother to her ancestral lands.

With family and friends in attendance, it will be a full-circle moment for Singletary.