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Raven is Back!

Raven, the creator in the Tlingit mythology, rescued humans from darkness by stealing the sun.

“He was a white bird and the world was in Darkness. Raven decides he will try and do something about the darkness, for himself and for the world. As he follows the Nass River, he encounters the Fishermen of the Nights … They tell Yeil ( as Raven was then called) that Nass Shaak Arankaawu ( the Nobleman at the Head of the Nass River) has many treasures in his Naa Kanidi ( Clan House)including beautifully carved boxes that house the light,” So Raven having disguised himself as a human baby, took the moon and the sun out of their boxes and liberated them.

Preston Singletary wondered what Raven has been doing since mythic times, so in his new series of glass works he brings Raven back, he wakes him up to our disastrous world. This exhibition (which unfortunately closed on June 1 but there is a free catalog you can get ) includes many versions of Raven as well as a new story about Raven written by collaborator Garth Stine:

“I Dream Therefore I am Raven.”

The exhibition is contained in the smaller room at Trevor Gallery, a low lighted space with a large photo of the forest at one end. Interspersed throughout the room are the new Raven sculptures, it feels like we are walking into the forest with Raven all around us.

Just outside the entrance is “Blue Light Spirit Mobile” suggesting blue spiritual light floating in the air. On the other side is “Communicating with the Spirits” two children riding on a composite bird/animal who seem to be joining us. So, the stage is set for a special event.

At the entrance a sign says, “Please Feed the Raven.” In these stories Raven is constantly in pursuit of food, as he realizes how degraded the salmon and berries he is given have become.

We see a white Raven. Raven was originally white, but when he rescued the sun, the Chief was so angry that he threw ashes at him and turned him black. But after sleeping for such a long time Raven grew new feathers and turned white again. As he arrives among people all glittering and white, they stare at him, so he decides to rub himself with ashes and turn black again so no one will notice him.

Preston: “In my interpretation of what is happening now I want to believe that Raven is battling climate change, protecting the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, or helping discover the Boarding School grave sites.

So the first story tells us about Raven’s Dreams of the World Before with clear skies, clean water, uncorrupted animals, “magnificent salmon, berries ripe to bursting, and roe hurling themselves up river to spawn. “Before the world turned on itself with contempt and tore itself apart.”

Preston Singletary’s “Ashes from the Fire,” 2024, blown and sand carved glass.

Altogether there are sixteen pieces that reference Raven’s efforts to heal the world, each accompanied by a story written by Garth Stein.

They include Raven using ashes from the fire to change himself back to black from white. Crying to unfreeze the frozen river, and purify the water to liberate the fish there, protecting the children who have died at boarding schools, and taking on a fog hat and a fighting hat. The final piece is “Wolf sitting on a Rock “observant, cunning, ruthless, merciful, the spirit he would need to lead People into the Future World.”

Preston Singletary’s “Frozen River,” 2024, blown and sand carved glass.

It is hard to overstate how creative this collaboration is between Stein and Singletary. The sculptures each convey the poignancy of the stories. They are all subtly colored, red, yellow, blue and created with blown and sand carved glass compressed within a larger shape and the form lines of traditional Tlingit sculpture, Stein’s stories seamlessly bring together the mythic and the contemporary in narratives that both tell us of the degraded state of the world, and the possibilities for healing it.

Yet in the end we see how much must be done.

How ironic that white colonial settlers tried so hard to obliterate native culture, but now we increasingly realize that Indigenous knowledge may be the only way forward for our planet.

One upcoming exhibition I would like to mention.

Gallery 4Culture, June 6–27, 2024

Opening: Thursday, June 6, 6–8pm

JOHN FEODOROV: Assimilations

A series of paintings and prints question the ways colonization shapes identity.

John is a wonderful quirky artist whom I included in both of my recent books, Setting our Hearts on Fire, and Art and Politics Now. He has a unique perspective and sense of humor on cultural intersections.

~Susan Platt, PhD


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