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Native American artist finds new ways to express old cultures in glass

Post Time:Mar 11,2015Classify:Industry NewsView:426

When Preston Singletary began working with glass, he had no idea how closely it would come to define him and his heritage.


Today he sees himself as an ambassador for glass as an art form for other indigenous cultures.


The internationally renowned Native American artist from Seattle is in Canberra this week for a residency as part of Canberra Glassworks' Honouring Cultures project to bring indigenous glass artists together.



Preston Singletary hard at work. Photo: Matt Bedford

He is working alongside Australian Indigenous artists on work he has been developing for four years with friend and collaborator Dante Marioni, exploring ways to express their culture through the medium of glass. It is a personal passion in his work that has kept him working for the past two decades.



Speaking after a long first day in the Glassworks hotshop on Friday, he said his practice dated back about 30 years, to his days as a struggling musician trying to get a band together in Seattle and working in glass-blowing as a day job.


"The first works that I did were not reflective of my cultural background. They were more decorative art," he said.


"Once I gained the skills of glass-blowing and I could control the shape and execute the piece I wanted to, I was looking for something more unique and more personal, and I decided to look to my heritage."


Affiliated with the Tlingit tribe in Alaska, he had lived his entire  life in Seattle, but it was a trip to the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington State that changed his perspective on what he could do with glass.


There he met another Native American artist, Tony Jojola from New Mexico, who was expressing his culture through glass.


He realised for the first time that Native American artists could express themselves beyond traditional forms, and that glass could bring another dimension to indigenous art.


"I have kind of a modernist aesthetic, I call it, in terms of some of the forms that I work with. They're exaggerated in their scale or they're very gestural or have a very simple, spare, organic look to them, but putting north-west coast designs on it," he said.


"I've been working at getting much deeper into the symbolism, and working with some elders to understand the stories on a deeper level, because in the mythologies there's symbolism within them that teach certain aspects to the community."


Many of the traditional material used by the Tlingit tribe to communicate stories, such as cedar timber, were becoming increasingly rare and new material needed to be found, he said.


"I feel that the needs of the people and the community in keeping the symbols and stories alive will come through new materials.


"Glass is just one of them, but maybe the next generation it could be concrete, or it could be steel. Who knows?"

Source: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/act-news/canberra-Author: shangyi

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