When Preston Singletary was a Seattle teenager, he dreamed of becoming a professional musician. But his life took a different path. After school let out, young Preston used to hang out with his buddy, Dante Marioni. Dante's dad, Paul, was part of Seattle's glass art community, and Dante and Preston learned their craft in Paul's studio.
More than 40 years later, Preston Singletary has become one of the world's most renowned glass artists, adapting glass-making techniques to tell the stories of his Tlingit ancestors.
Most recently Preston's major museum exhibition, "Raven and the Box of Daylight," has been touring the United States. It recounts the traditional story of how Raven brought the sun to the world, helping to form human civilization.
"What are the new Raven stories? I imagine Raven is trying to battle climate change. Or Raven discovered resident school graves, or he's trying to protect missing indigenous women."
Marcie and Vivian paid a visit to Preston's studio to talk about his art, his music, and his passion for telling the stories of his people.
ABOUT THIS EPISODE'S GUEST
Preston Singletary’s art has become synonymous with the relationship between Tlingit culture and fine art. His glass sculptures deal with themes of Tlingit mythology and traditional designs, while also using music to shape his contemporary perspective of Native culture.
Singletary started blowing glass at the Glass Eye studios in Seattle, WA in 1982, where he grew up and continues to work and live. He developed his skills as a production glass maker and attended the Pilchuck Glass School. Singletary began working at the glass studio of Benjamin Moore, where he broadened his skills by assisting Dante Marioni, Richard Royal, Dan Dailey, and Lino Tagliapietra. It was there that Singletary started to develop his own work. In 1993 he traveled for work to Sweden where he was influenced by Scandinavian design and met his future wife, Åsa Sandlund.
In 2000 Singletary received an honorary name from elder, Joe David (Nuu Chah Nulth), and in 2009 Singletary received an honorary doctorate degree from University of Puget Sound (Tacoma, WA). Forty years of glass making, creating music, and working together with elders has put him in a position of being a keeper of cultural knowledge, while forging new directions in new materials and concepts of Indigenous arts.
Now recognized internationally, Singletary’s works are included in the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, MA), the Seattle Art Museum (Seattle, WA), the Ethnographic Museum (Stockholm, Sweden), The National Museum of Scotland (Edinburgh, UK) The British Museum (London, UK), The National Museum of The American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (Washington DC) as well as two solo exhibitions that toured multiple venues originating with the Museum of Glass (Tacoma, WA).
Learn more about Preston and his work on his website
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (00:00):
Hey, I'm Vivian Phillips.
MARCIE SILLMAN (00:01):
And I'm Marcie Sillman. And this is, doubleXposure Is DoubleXposure Exposure. <laugh>
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (00:15):
DoubleXposure is a podcast where we plumb the deepest depths and the tiniest cracks of our world to understand how culture and creativity shape our lives.
MARCIE SILLMAN (00:27):
Today, we're going to pay a visit to the studios of Glass Artist, Preston Singletary.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (00:44):
Hey, Marcie. How you doing?
MARCIE SILLMAN (00:46):
Well, Vivian, I'm fine. It's sunny. It's 90 degrees a record temperature here in Seattle as we speak, not as you listen to this, 'cause we'll be dropping this episode a little bit later. But we talk to each other. We see each other on Zoom, usually when we're doing this. And Vivian's in her home. I'm in my home on the other side of town, and normally that's how we do the show. But we got a chance to step out of my bedroom and your office <laugh> and go to visit the glass artist extraordinaire, Preston Singletary in his studio.
They weren't blowing glass the day we were there, but they were carving some of the really intricate designs that Preston draws right on the glass pieces. And as we walked up into his office to sit down to do the interview, we were faced with a huge variety of faces and forms that Preston and his assistants had created in that studio.
PRESTON SINGLETARY (01:49):
These are a lost wax castings. So they are made from a wood form, sort of like bronze casting. But basically you make a wax positive, you make a plaster, you melt the wax out, you put the glass inside that open face mold, and you melt it into the form. That's where you get the real sculptural kind of form. You can actually see the knife marks from the, the carving in some of those.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (02:17):
When you do those really large pieces, does it all happen in here? Because I'm looking at this apparatus, you know, that looks like it might lift something happen. Right?
PRESTON SINGLETARY (02:28):
Well, this is the Fitzgerald building. He was a sculptor. Well, he lived in Seattle in New York, and he built this building as originally as a, it was gonna be a foundry for bronze casting. Okay. Sculpture. And so these big hoists were used for the crucibles and what have you. And then it was converted into a glass studio in the eighties when the school didn't really get off the ground. And so he left the building. And um, and then Fred Hutch came in, took everything over, and this building's been in the Twilight Zone forever. It was gonna be torn down then. Then it wasn't ,then it was, and it wasn't. And so I'm still kind of milking it, <laugh> as long as I can, because to have this much space in the city is pretty unique, you know. But I have a good relationship with Fred Hutch and they, um, you know, I've loaned them work and they've got a lot of, you know, work on display there and what have you.
PRESTON SINGLETARY (03:19):
So Larry Corey was the president for a while, and he, I tell this story this way. He's, I used to deal with the building manager. Her name was Mary McGow. And she, uh, said Larry, Corey came to me the other day and said, you know, I just bought this wonderful glass sculpture from this artist, uh, Preston Singletary. And she's just like, he rents from us. Did you not know that? And he is like, no, I didn't know. And so he came, so he came over, right? Yeah, he came over and we, we visited and, um, that's when I met him.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (03:48):
So being essentially wedged in between this worldwide renowned cancer research center, what are your thoughts, Preston, on the importance of art and the process of healing?
PRESTON SINGLETARY (04:04):
I believe it is, uh, really important. Uh, the fact is I have a lot of thoughts about that in the context of native art and what I do and, and how these essentially trying to keep these symbols and codes of the land alive in this new material. I like to think that native art in particular is, can be, have a healing effect because it is so ancient, you know, it's so connected and it could be helpful for people to see it, understand it, and learn about it. I mean, I've gotten really, really deep into the whole idea of the symbolism behind the, the stories and the different animals. And, you know, this connection, Raven Stole the Sun and, you know, all of this. And it's, it's really a bigger metaphor. So I could go down that rabbit hole and talk a lot about that. In my estimation, I think it's, I'm trying to keep the, the art form alive in this new material, and I've gotten a lot of attention for what I do, so that it's kind of, it's an opportunity for me to really show something, you know, in the end.
PRESTON SINGLETARY (05:17):
And like I say, that the more I understand about it and the more I get into like native spirituality, you know, then it becomes a much, much more, well, it's, it's a personal growth thing, but it's also, I can learn how to share that with other people. And I was encouraged by my elders to talk, you know, openly about the spiritual side of it. And I wasn't always comfortable about it, but this one particular elder felt like it would be helpful for me when I talk about the work and the growth that I experienced, that it can, uh, trigger something for somebody else. Like they might think, oh, I had a similar kind of experience or whatever. Or it might prompt them to, to be more open about something and therefore they can maybe learn something from it.
MARCIE SILLMAN (06:07):
I guess we should say Vivian, Preston's Singletary, for people who don't know his work is really kind of a, one of a kind glass artist. Seattle is one of the world's centers of fine glass art, but Preston kind of picked it up at his friend's house when he was in high school. And now what he's done is incorporate his Alaskan Native Heritage. He's comes from a Tlingit family, even though he grew up in Seattle, and he's incorporated the shape-form design into the glass. And it's really an elaborate process. He blows the glass form, there's birds and baskets and fish, all sorts of things. Yeah. Amazing. Then he draws on them and then one of his assistants cuts out the design. And then as you discovered, one of your relatives is sandblasting the design out. It's amazing.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (07:10):
My niece, it's incredible seeing the process and then seeing the finished product gave me so much more depth of appreciation for the work that, that Preston does. And you know, when, when people think about glass art and they think about Seattle, I think that they automatically think about two things. Dale Chihuly and Pilchuck, right. And Preston Singletary and his Native inclination, the way in which he approaches the carrying forward of his ancestry with his own innovation by doing it in glass is not only fascinating, but it is absolutely incredible.
MARCIE SILLMAN (07:55):
It's incredible and it's incredibly beautiful. And I got a chance a few years ago to spend some time with Preston at the studio, right before the Museum of Glass in Tacoma opened this show that's now on a national tour called Raven in the Box of Daylight. And it's based on a, a Native mythology about, you know, how people came to be. Every culture has its mythology of the origins of the world. And it just blew my mind. And when we talk about the dedication to passing on culture mm-hmm. <affirmative> that Preston imbues this beautiful glass with, I mean, it's fine art. You see it in museums, standalone pieces all across the world actually have pieces by Preston. But this show, like visiting his studio makes you realize that this is an artist who's really after something much bigger than the joy of making things.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (08:58):
Oh yeah. His connection to the earth, to the past, to the future, and how all of that manifests in the work that he does is beautiful.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (09:09):
I have always been quite curious and inclined towards Native art because there's so many similarities to African art. How does that play those, those two ethnicities play into the work that you do?
PRESTON SINGLETARY (09:27):
Yeah, I mean, a lot of the artwork, let's just put it in the context of how I started to think about it, was the primitivism genre, which is the modernist that we're reflecting on these, you know, African, native American oceanic cultures. And the work that we did pre-contact before colonialism was basically trying to rectify, make sense of man's connection to the cosmos. And so there's a lot of ritual involved. There's a lot of, you know, ceremonial things, objects, and so, so I keep that in mind a lot when I work with, you know, other Indigenous people. And I've done several collaborations, and each time I do, you know, I've worked with Māori, I've worked with Australian Aboriginal, I've worked with, uh, other Native Americans. And so I learned through working with those people, like how do they interpret the work for today's market mm-hmm. <affirmative>, so to speak.
PRESTON SINGLETARY (10:28):
Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I mean, we're all forced to go to the commercial market to be a successful working artist. So we no longer is my work made for the community exclusively. Right. Whereas in the old days, that's the way it would, it would've been, you know, you would, we would've been commissioned by the, the, the clan leaders and the house leaders to make the art forms, to make the totem poles, to make anything. Tlingit culture, eagle and raven, you're born into your mother's side, it's matrilineal, so you automatically marry over to the other side. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, this system of balance and, um, uh, reciprocity, you know, even as an eagle killer whale eagle, I would be making the Raven Clan’s material, so I wouldn't make my own eagle material in the old days. And the fact is, if you wanna be a good practicing working artist, you have to go to the commercial market. So it's, it's kind of a con, it's not a conflict, but it's a, you're, it's a conundrum because it is going to rich collectors. But on the other hand, when I'm approached by my community to make something, then I feel like I'm well positioned because I've been honing my style and my craft for so long that I'm ready to make that special piece for them. And that's happened. So that, that's, um, the exciting things that…
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (11:53):
So it wouldn't be a stretch if you were to be contacted by someone outside of the native community to do work that is representative of, say, for instance, African indigeneity?
PRESTON SINGLETARY (12:08):
Yeah, I mean, I, I would, uh, prefer, and like every time I do a collaboration, I work with a, an artist from that community mm-hmm. <affirmative>. If I'm asked to do something for a different community, I want to have, make sure that I'm not stepping on any toes collaboratively. Yeah. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So I, I always look for somebody that I can, um, some artist that understands what, you know, the intellectual property issues, but, but
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (12:31):
It wouldn't be appropriated.
PRESTON SINGLETARY (12:33):
Yeah. So it wouldn't be appropriated to be of a peer collaboration that would have both of our names attached to it. So that's, that's the only way that I would go and do that. I mean, if I do another cultural style, it's always with, you know, the particular person. They're from that tribe. Like, I've worked with Mound Builder tribal member, Choctaw, I've worked with Santa Clara Pueblo. Uh, then we make the vase forms those, you know, pottery forms. So each time it has to come from them, you know, as much as that it can challenge me, like I have to make, do something that I'm, uh, maybe is out of my comfort zone.
MARCIE SILLMAN (13:09):
You talked a little bit about working for your clan, working for Tlingit people. Talk a little bit about how telling a culture in glass, which is not an indigenous material to the Tlingit people. How has that process gone from you first, did you approach your people with wanting to tell stories? Did they approach you? How, how has that worked?
PRESTON SINGLETARY (13:32):
Well, you know, my, my great-grandmother, she lived to be a hundred years old, and we spent time with her, and I grew up very urban. And so I, uh, when I fell into glass blowing, and then I wanted to find my own sort of path with the material, then I turned to my cultural background, which I, I wasn't really well versed in the, the design system at all. And so I was tracing designs out of books. I met certain people, like the Davidson was, comes to mind. I met him in 1988. He's a non-native, but he lived up in Hanes, Alaska for, uh, well, he had spent several summers up there, and he learned how to carve the traditional style. He was taught by Tlingit Elders. And so he encouraged me on the path, my path, and then I met other mentors that, you know, helped me learn more and more about the stories and the designs and you know, everything about it.
PRESTON SINGLETARY (14:32):
And, um, then I started making trips up there. And when I finally brought my work up to Alaska to show at this cultural gathering, it's called Celebration. It's a biannual gathering that happens, uh, in Juneau. And so I brought some of my work up there and, you know, people were applauding what I did, and, you know, they were handing out these little certificates of recognition and, you know, said, yeah. I was like, we'd love to see the, all the art coming together, and we've got the basket tree, we've got these carving, and now we have glass <laugh>. Nice. And so really, it, it, it was truth be told, I was, I think I, I brought my work up there after it was pretty fully formed. I mean, I was, I had a pretty good handle on what I was doing. And so there was a certain degree of, um, you know, acceptance or, you know, that that was, that was there when I showed up.
MARCIE SILLMAN (15:27):
How did finding glass and then pursuing this path help solidify for you who you are and where you come from?
PRESTON SINGLETARY (15:36):
Well, I mean, that was huge because like I said, when I first started dabbling in the, in the design system and trying to put it onto the glass and, you know, where the ideas come from and how it all comes to be. And so I just really, after I started putting myself out there and learning more about my own culture through books, and then finding friends that could also help me with that process, you know, it became probably, you know, the most fulfilling thing that I could have done with my life. And so there's a real dharma around the whole thing. You know, it just becomes, and, you know, the fact is that I always wanted to be a musician first. And so I dabbled in that for a long, well, I still dabble, but <laugh>, I was kind of, I had two things that I was juggling, and they were, they were struggling competing with each other in a lot of ways. I mean, at the time when I started, you know, the Seattle music scene started to explode here in the late eighties and nineties. I was right there, you know, with playing in bands and what have you. But the type of music that I was interested in wasn't being embraced by a larger commercial audience. It was, you know…
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (16:52):
You weren’t into grunge?
PRESTON SINGLETARY (16:53):
<laugh>. No, I was, I I was like, into sort of funk, jazz, funk, rock styles, you know, growing up in Wallingford, I, I was put on this busing program, remember? Oh,
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (17:04):
So did you come to the central area for school?
PRESTON SINGLETARY (17:06):
I did. I did. I went to Meany and Madrona, and that's where I was really exposed to like soul music and, you know, Earth, Wind and Fire, and Ohio players. And, you know, they, they had this cool thing where the, you know, in the lunch room there was a DJ and they were playing all this music, and I was like, I was, you know, getting into it, you know,
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (17:25):
PRESTON SINGLETARY (17:25):
Wow. And, um, so funk music, soul music has always been my thing, you know, and then we get into the rock, you know, funk-rock style, and that's what I was really following for a while. But it always comes back to that style <laugh>. So anyways, you know, that, that really kind of helped, uh, me find, uh, my life path.
MARCIE SILLMAN (17:48):
When I came in the door, I talked about whether Raven in the Box of Daylight was gonna come back to Seattle. That opened up in Tacoma 2019.
PRESTON SINGLETARY (17:57):
MARCIE SILLMAN (17:59):
In the Stone Age, as you told me, <laugh>, um, BC before Covid times. Yeah. And your work is in many museums, it's in many kind of collections around the world. But for me, that experience of going into that exhibit was transformational on a lot of ways. I mean, one was, you were telling a story that I wasn't all that familiar with about the creation of a people, but it was also a different kind of way to present art. I mean, it wasn't just a precious, it is, they are precious. Everything that was in that show is precious. But it wasn't, it wasn't that. It wasn't like, here's this artwork and now we're gonna go to another artwork. And so for you, the process of getting to that, talk about, we're talking about identity, how was that particular show a sort of a, a big stop along the way in this exploration we've been talking about?
PRESTON SINGLETARY (18:52):
So when I met, uh, this man named Walter Porter in 2004, it was the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian, and he was a little bit familiar with my work. I had created a sculpture, uh, Raven Sculpture with the sun in its beak for the inaugural opening. And he goes, oh, you're Preston. Oh gosh. You know, I gotta talk to you. 'cause this is, you know, this has been my life's work, you know, analyzing stories in sort of a Joseph Campbell kind of way. And so, uh, I asked him to do some writing for the Echoes, Fire and Shadows Show, and then we started making presentations, and he started to share with me all of the perspectives, his comparative mythology analysis to other modes of theology and mythology. And so, uh, there were several stories that he talked about, but Raven was the big one.
PRESTON SINGLETARY (19:42):
And so we had planned on working on this show together, and then he passed away in 2011, I think it was 2011. And so I was kind of left in the lurch with, you know, trying to figure out how I was going to recover from that, because he had so much knowledge, and we had, I learned a lot from him, you know, in the process. So I wanted it to be an immersive show. I wanted it to be the idea of, of, uh, glass sculpture being kind of a stage craft in the way that masks are used, in the way storytelling is done in a traditional way. And then the more I learned about the story, the more deep I got into it, I, I uncovered details that I was able to transfer into the story. And so there's a several different versions of the story that comprise the, the exhibition that I did and the way that I did it.
PRESTON SINGLETARY (20:38):
And so, you know, we had to have the glass river, we had to have the canoe. I mean, how are we gonna illustrate all this, this journey of the Raven? And then I realized, you know, keep talking about the Raven is white in the beginning of time. It's like, okay. So the, the checklist kept growing and growing, and I was working with Juniper Shuey, and he helped me with, um, a lot of, uh, exhibition design and the video work, and then I wanted music. I wanted, you know, to bring that into the experience. And so you would have this kind of way of winding through the threat of the story, and you would get different impressions based on the sounds and all of that. So that, that's sort of that, I don't know how it got done. I mean, I think I was right at a, a place where things were really rolling for me, and, you know, I, I pumped every bit of resource that I had into it.
PRESTON SINGLETARY (21:33):
I, I say I made that show in my spare time, basically, because I was trying to, you know, make work for galleries, and I was trying to make a living and pay, you know, everybody's salaries and what have you, basically impoverished myself for a couple of years. But, and when I finally recovered from that, it felt like, okay, the, now I'm feeling like I'm back on solid footing. But, um, the show is the result of that effort and everybody, everybody in the studio's effort too, there was a lot of pressure and there was a lot of, uh, demand on everybody's time to deliver all the pieces on a given date.
MARCIE SILLMAN (22:13):
How many glass pieces are actually in that show?
PRESTON SINGLETARY (22:15):
There's like 60 glass pieces, and a few of the big ones are from the Museum of Glass Collection. Yeah,
MARCIE SILLMAN (22:22):
You told me it might come to Spokane?
PRESTON SINGLETARY (22:25):
That is what they would like on its journey back from the East Coast. Then they're hopefully gonna get it to, uh, Spokane. But there's a couple of other museums that are entertaining the possibility of taking it,
MARCIE SILLMAN (22:38):
If I'm correct, Oklahoma City is, its next big stop. It opens in the fall?
PRESTON SINGLETARY (22:44):
Correct. Yeah, it'll be Oklahoma City Museum of Art.
MARCIE SILLMAN (22:48):
Before we turn on any microphone you were talking about, you're on the cusp of, of a big birthday,
PRESTON SINGLETARY (22:55):
I’ll be 60.
MARCIE SILLMAN (22:56):
And you were talking about like, where do I go next? There are some artists who find their, their groove and they stay in their groove, and that might not be you. So when you dream of what might be, I mean, you've made lots of things possible that nobody would've imagined. So what do you dreaming of?
PRESTON SINGLETARY (23:15):
The thing I'm telling everybody right now, <laugh>, it's been sort of bubbling up in my thoughts and, you know, ideas, um, is, you know, what are the new Raven stories before contact, you know, Raven, you know, there was, there was a lot of creativity. There was art, there was stories that were being told and probably written songs and what have you. And, but at one point, Raven just stopped doing things, right. So what's the next story of, of Raven that's gonna be allowed into the annals of history? I'm imagining like, you know, Raven is trying to battle climate change, or raven discovered the residential school graves, you know, or he's trying to protect, missing, murdered indigenous women, or, you know, if you think about it as Raven as a protector, somehow that, you know, Raven in all these stories, Raven, sometimes he fails, but he fails up, right? He tried to do one thing, but as a result, he put the sun in the, in the sky. And so we all benefit from that. So, so these are the kinds of things I'm trying to develop. And then it becomes a little bit of social commentary as well.
MARCIE SILLMAN (24:28):
A few weeks ago, Vivian and I spoke to a theater artist, a musical theater artist, Filipino American named Justin Huertas, who was talking about creating mythology. Yes.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (24:41):
And new mythology for our people. And our people would be Black and brown people, you know, people of color mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And as you were talking about that, I was thinking about the fact that what you're talking about creating new stories, it feels like not only are new stories needed, but the degree to which existing stories are being suppressed, Right. Is another element of the necessity for just continuing to create more and more and more and more stories. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Yeah. So it feels really important that that's a next step for you too.
PRESTON SINGLETARY (25:19):
Yeah, I think so, because it, it is an opportunity to think a little bit deeper. You know, I'm such a, a material based artist, you know, dealing, you know, with these, this material, everybody's, you know, it's so pretty. It's so pretty, you know, you can't make ugly glass really. It's hard to <laugh>. It's always so shiny and transparent and attractive. And, but I would like to sort of be able to take a lot of the thoughts that I have and, you know, the experience and then, you know, how can you, how can you craft that, those stories, you know? Because I don't write a lot. I mean, I'm still, you know, playing music and working with other creative people, and, um, they, I, you know, I allow them to do that kind of thing mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so I'm just a collaborator. So now I'm sort of, you know, taking a little step out and, and seeing where that's gonna lead.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (26:12):
You know, you were talking too, earlier about Egyptian art, and it just has always been a mystery to me why there's not more focus placed on the craft of creating the OG glyphs mm-hmm. <affirmative> and all of those carvings, you know, all of the focus tends to be on the subjects mm-hmm. <affirmative> and not the keepers of the culture, which are truly the artist. And that's what it feels like you're really leaning into that, have always, but really leaning into that aspect of keeping the culture.
PRESTON SINGLETARY (26:45):
I had this opportunity because people are, I was getting a lot of attention for what I, I'm doing. And in a lot of ways I would, I would just be honest and say it was premature. You know, I wasn't fully developed as a Native artist. I was trying, and I was, I was dabbling. And then it became, with the, the increased attention, I said, you know, I, I better <laugh>, I better get on the ball here and make it really honest and true as I can. So that's where I started to find people who could help me, you know, connect with the stories and, and as I mentioned, you know, the spirituality, the sweat lodge ceremony, a lot of things like that, which really opened my eyes to a lot of different perspectives.
MARCIE SILLMAN (27:32):
It's interesting because you do, because of your prominence in your field and your access to big institutions of privilege, you can put the stories that you tell in front of a very wide audience who might not necessarily voluntarily seek those stories out, but have the opportunity to encounter them. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, which is a form of activism. We've been talking about artists and activists, and do you take that mantle on?
PRESTON SINGLETARY (28:04):
I mean, a little bit. I mean, I, I stop shy of being, you know, like militant about it. <laugh> I try to, uh, draw them in and then just, and show them something, you know, in my way. Uh, there are other people who are a lot more conceptual and can go really deep on that side. But for me, I, I like to, um, I mean, for instance, we were talking about the Raven story and talk about how the daughter becomes pregnant. Well, she doesn't have a, a husband, you know, so that's the immaculate conception myth, right? And so there was, uh, people that came into the museum was like, well, they can't say that. That's from the Bible, you know? Mm-hmm. And it's like, Hmm. Well, I mean, if you go back to any religious construction, it always starts with the virgin birth. It's not exclusive to, to Christianity. And, you know, that was what Walter said. He goes, you know, I'm, we're gonna use this metaphor because I don't wanna think that, you know, the Christians can hog Jesus all to themselves, <laugh>,
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (29:05):
And the Christians got that from someplace else. Right? It's not like they invented that. Right. I mean, like King James. Okay, <laugh>, we won't, we won't go there. <laugh>.
MARCIE SILLMAN (29:15):
Are you kidding? This is my favorite part of the whole interview. <laugh> <laugh>, you said, I'm not, you know, radical, I'm not an activist, but you also talked about the shiny beauty of glass. It's shiny, it's pretty, it, we're surrounded by beauty in the room where we're sitting right now. It's amazing. So in that sense, it's like the playwright, Justin Huertas is using fantasy and comedy. We spoke with a, a filmmaker talking about how to tell the story of the lynching of Emmett Till and why he wanted to make it a feature film. Yes. Because a feature film will reach more people than a documentary, right. A show with beautiful, beautiful objects. So lovingly and, and skillfully created, is probably gonna reach more people than a, a pamphlet that you print up in a printing press in your basement, right?
PRESTON SINGLETARY (30:07):
Yeah. I, I think so. I mean, it is an opportunity, and I do try to take it pretty, you know, I take it seriously, you know, I work hard and have a great team, so it affords me the opportunity to do these things and to, to take chances, take, you know, these risks. And there's one thing that is coming up, and you were talking about, you're dealing with those social injustices, like head on.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (30:33):
I’m just sitting here thinking about the fact that, you know, okay, I always see myself in work context, right. And I would never get anything done <laugh>. I would just sit here and do this all day.
PRESTON SINGLETARY (30:44):
Well, sometimes I do.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (30:46):
PRESTON SINGLETARY (30:48):
Well, you know, when I'm in between, uh, flailing away and, and trying to make design work and all that,
MARCIE SILLMAN (30:55):
It's amazing in here. That's all I have to say. Preston,
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (30:57):
Another treasure, another treasure from the Pacific Northwest. Right.
MARCIE SILLMAN (31:02):
Preston Singletary, you are it. Thank you so much for letting us spend so much time in your studio. Thank you.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (31:11):
MARCIE SILLMAN (31:14):
Vivian, what I so enjoyed was this interview was less an interview and more a chance to listen to Preston really thinking about his future. And, you know, there's, there are, as we said, there are some artists who like, get a shtick and they do the shtick all the time, and the shtick never changes. And that's not this artist.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (31:40):
Not at all. You know, I, I'm really fascinated and I'm very interested to see how his work will continue to evolve when he delves into the history of the creation of, of people. Right. And you mentioned that before, but also thinking about it from the perspective of pre-contact and the activism element that goes into the stories around pre-contact. Right. And then carrying forward with this eye and vision toward the future. That what I'm getting from Preston, is this hope around the return of the pure nature of Indigenous arts.
MARCIE SILLMAN (32:28):
Well, Indigenous arts and just the Indigenous presence, especially in the Pacific Northwest where we live. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And in Seattle in particular, as I was listening to Preston, I was thinking about this neighborhood battle, which expanded to a citywide battle over trees that have been culturally modified centuries ago by the indigenous people of, of our city cultural marker trees. There is one in a northeast Seattle neighborhood that the neighbors, uh, were able to save because it turned out, it had been altered by some of the Indigenous people here as a mark for folks who were walking towards the shores of Lake Washington, where they might fish for salmon. And that is now something to be considered before a tree is cut down for a mega mansion or a multi-family unit or whatever. I mean, we have a lot of development in this city, and I, I was happy to hear about this because it ties into some of the things that Preston's thinking about, and also consideration of Native, uh, natural resources, practices, that, when we think about wildfire containment, you, you can't help but think of that right now in the aftermath of the horrific Maui disaster.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (33:53):
I don't want it to be lost either. I just think it's worth reiterating the nature of Indigenous arts and the spirit connection and how that is so essential to healing. We talked a little bit early in the interview about art and healing, and then particularly given where his studio is, it's just like, it's surrounded by the Cancer Research Center, the major Cancer Research Center, Fred Hutch, and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. You know, like they're all right there. And part of what I'm curious about in some ways, and it is my own curiosity, is how this concentration of illness, which is what that is, right? Cancer is an illness, how that concentration really benefits from having this healing center. It's almost like it could be a little heart in the center of all of that illness where Preston's Studio is.
MARCIE SILLMAN (34:56):
Well, I'd like to take a tour. Fred Hutch is huge. It's buildings and buildings and buildings that really surround this very small two story space that mm-hmm. <affirmative> that he's in. But the Hutch does have some of his art on display in their corridors. And I, you know, art and healing, we know there's a power to art and Preston's art in particular. If, if nothing else, I don't know if it cures cancer, but it can definitely soothe a, a heart that's hurting.
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (35:30):
MARCIE SILLMAN (35:41):
DoubleXposure's Executive producers are me, Marcie Sillman,
VIVIAN PHILLIPS (35:44):
And me, Vivian Phillips, associate producer Hilary Northcraft.
MARCIE SILLMAN (35:50):
If you like what you're hearing on this episode of doubleXposure, be sure to follow us on your favorite podcast app and check out our website, doubleXposurepod.com.
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