Guardian of the Sea
Arts of the Americas
On View: Arts of the Americas Galleries, 5th Floor
Corporations and even our current government are rolling back environmental regulations, defunding scientific research, building oil pipelines which endanger our clean water, and a whole host of other issues that endanger our health as a nation. In my opinion, this is due to the lack of a true spiritual connection in relation to nature. . . . It is driven by a blind and misguided capitalist perspective that is not balanced by a respect for our environment.
—Preston Singletary, 2019
This work embodies the connection between tradition and artistic innovation. The artist Preston Singletary employs the medium of glass both to counter the stereotype that Native artists must use traditional materials and to preserve cultural symbols of his tribe that are tied to the local environment. Here, Singletary depicts the southern resident killer whale (or orca), a hereditary crest figure of his clan. Habitat contamination and the rapid decline of the Chinook salmon, this whale’s main food source, have brought it to the brink of extinction.
18 x 6 x 18 in. (45.7 x 15.2 x 45.7 cm) (show scale)
Gift of Fairfield-Maxwell, Ltd., by exchange
Sculpture of blown and sand-carved glass is red and black, the two signature colors for Northwest Coast art. It represents a killer whale, one of the crest designs of Tlingit artist Preston Singletary. It is made using traditional form-line designs with black forming the positive, primary spaces and red forming the negative, secondary spaces. The whale is arched, with flippers and tail fins down and dorsal fin up.
Preston Singletary (Tlingit, born 1963). Guardian of the Sea, 2004. Glass, 18 x 6 x 18 in. (45.7 x 15.2 x 45.7 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Fairfield-Maxwell, Ltd., by exchange
, 2004.2. © artist or artist's estate (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2004.2_Russell_Johnson_photo_SL3.jpg)
threequarter, 2004.2_Russell_Johnson_photo_SL3.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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© Preston Singletary
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Can you tell me about these two works?
These two works show how in the present day, artists continue to bridge the gap between sacred tradition and contemporary innovation, expanding and enriching them both. The whale, featured in both works, is highly respected among the Kwakwaka'wakw and the Tlingit due to ancestral ties. You also see traditional form line design elements in both versions but the medium is drastically different. Some of the main differences are material. The “Baleen Whale Mask” is made of wood with mostly painted decoration and some carving while the “Guardian of the Sea” is made of layers of colored glass which has been sandcarved.