Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

Preston Singletary

Shadow Catcher–At Yahaayi Shatl’éÍkwx’u. 2002

Shadow Catcher–At Yahaayi Shatl’éÍkwx’u. 2002

By Mique’l Askren

Born in San Francisco and raised in Seattle, Preston Singletary grew up feeling disconnected from his Tlingit roots in Southeast Alaska. Now considered one of the premier Northwest Coast Native artists working in glass, it was, ironically, Singletary’s training in European glass art traditions that reunited him with Tlingit culture. Speaking of his experience in bringing these two ancient art forms together he states, “I found a source of strength and power that brought me back to my family, society, and cultural roots.” [1]

He was only fifteen years old when a friend introduced him to glass art at his father’s studio. Soon after, Singletary began working as an assistant to local glass artists. After high school, Singletary created glass art to support his budding musical career with Seattle-based rock bands. Dreaming of being a professional musician, he did not enroll in college or art school. Instead, he pursued his interest in glass by attending workshops at the Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Washington and working with other glass artists.  As his interest grew, he concentrated on mastering traditional European glass techniques by studying with highly accomplished artists in Venetian glass in Italy and in Scandinavian glass design in Sweden and Finland.

Singletary first combined Northwest Coast design with glass in 1987; however it was nearly a decade later that he committed himself to producing Tlingit art in the medium full-time. [2] Referring to this life-changing moment he asserts, “I started working with Tlingit designs to find my own voice.”[3] After learning Northwest Coast design from Nu-Chah-Nulth artist Joe David and others, Singletary recreated bone amulets, wooden rattles and masks, cedar and spruce hats and baskets, bentwood boxes, house screens and other prestigious cultural objects, in blown and sand-carved glass. Singletary describes his process:

It is my attempt at transforming an ancient design style to the non-traditional medium of glass. As I have worked to understand how to approach this design system, and what these designs means to us as Northwest Coast people, my fascination has brought a new dimension to my life. [4]

One of Singletary’s signature pieces is in the style of woven cedar hats with painted designs. Displayed upside down and illuminated by spotlight, the etched Tlingit designs of his glass hats cast intricate shadowork, “a sort of kinetic sculpture that is only revealed when the lighting is right.”[5] One fine example of this style is Shadow Catcher – At Yahaayi Shatl’ékwx’u (2002).

Singletary’s work has been shown extensively in solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally. In 2009, the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington opened Preston Singletary: Echoes, Fire, and Shadows, a mid-career retrospective of his work. His pieces are held in major collections throughout the U.S. and Europe, such as the Museum of Fine Arts in Massachusetts, the Heard Museum in Arizona, and the Brooklyn Museum.

Singletary was the first Northwest Coast Native artist to be trained at the Pilchuck Glass School where and he is currently a trustee and instructor.[6] Through his collaborative work with other Indigenous artists from the Northwest, Southwest and the Maori of New Zealand, he has become one of the most influential artists in the Indigenous glass art movement.


[1] Preston Singletary, “Artist Statement,”

[2] Michael Upchurch, “Tlingit Heritage Helps Glass Artist Preston Singletary Break New Ground.” Seattle Times,

[3] Walter C. Porter, “A Musician Trapped in a Glassblower’s Body,” in Preston Singletary: Echoes, Fire, and Shadows, ed. Melissa G. Post (Seattle: University of Washington, 2009), 39.

[4] Preston Singletary, “Artist Statement,” Fusing Traditions: Transformation in Glass by Native American Artists. (San Francisco: Museum of Craft and Folk Art, 2002), 83.

[5] Preston Singletary, “Artist Statement,”

[6] Bonnie Gangelhoff, “Preston Singletary Fuses his Tlingit Heritage with an Eye for Innovative Glass Art,” Southwest Art Magazine,


Additional Resources compiled by students in Contemporary Native American Art History course at the Institute of American Indian Art, Spring 2013 


Web-based Resources


Post, Melissa. “Echoes, Fires, and Shadows.” Singletary, Preston. Http:// Traver Gallery, N.d. Web. . Museum of Glass, n.d. Web. <Singletary, Preston. Http:// Traver Gallery, n.d. Web. .>.


Singletary, Preston. Http:// Blue Rain Gallery, n.d. Web. <>.


Singletary, Preston. Http:// Traver Gallery, n.d. Web. <>.


Selected Bibliography


McFadden, David Revere., and Ellen Napiura. Taubman. “Page 159.” Changing Hands: Art without Reservation. New York: Museum of Arts & Design, 2005. N. pag. Print.Contains information and an image of,”Shamans Amulet,” 2001, by Preston Singletary.


Post, Melissa G. “Preston Singletary: Echoes, Fire, and Shadows [Hardcover].” Preston Singletary: Echoes, Fire, and Shadows: Melissa G. Post: 9780295989181: Books. Museum of Glass and University of Washington Press, n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.Other Essays include: Steven Clay Brown and Walter C. Porter. Contents also contain Acknowledgements, Catalogue of the Exhibition, a Biography, selected Bibliography, etc.


“Preston Singletary.” Preston Singletary. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2013. Book and Website include personal information, inspirations, techniques, and images of Preston Singletarys’ original glass art.